Three teachers who say they won the Hawaii State Teachers Association election plan to go to court on Tuesday to try and force the union to uphold the already counted election results, unless the organization takes action on its own before then.
“It pains us to have to sue our own union,” Corey Rosenlee, who ran in the election against current Vice President Joan Lewis, said Thursday. “We hope the HSTA will honor the vote so that we can move forward as a union.”
If the teachers file a complaint and request for a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, they could hear back from the court as early as May 28, their lawyer David Rosen said.
Teachers are currently scheduled to cast new ballots for union leadership on June 2.
Rosenlee and his running mates Justin Hughey and Amy Perruso on Thursday revealed what they say are the results of the HSTA election that was conducted in several rounds over the past few weeks. All three would be replacing either current board members or taking spots from candidates supported by the current union leadership.
Rosenlee is already on the board as a representative from the Leeward chapter and was privy to the results. He was among a minority on the board who voted against the decision to throw out the results and hold a new election.
Until Thursday, Rosenlee and the others had declined to reveal the voting tallies because of a union policy against releasing election results until they are certified by the board.
“I am extremely disappointed that some candidates running for HSTA offices have chosen to violate HSTA’s procedures and protocol with their recent public announcements,” union President Wil Okabe said in a written statement Thursday afternoon. “And instead, have chosen to disrespect the decision made by their fellow teachers on the HSTA board.”
According to a statement issued by the three teachers on Thursday, the union’s elections committee certified Rosenlee and Perruso as winners in the president and secretary-treasurer races around May 2, before calling for a runoff for the spot of vice president. Rosenlee defeated Lewis, the current vice president. Perruso’s opponent, Osa Tui Jr., campaigned along with Lewis and vice presidential candidate (and current secretary-treasurer) Colleen Pasco. A third candidate for vice president, Paul Daugherty, ran independently.
The HSTA Board voted 21-8 last Saturday — after receiving the results of the runoff — to toss out the ballots because of what Okabe characterized as voting irregularities and hold a new election. According to the release, Hughey garnered the most votes in the vice-president runoff.
On Monday, Okabe told members that there had been a number of irregularities, including teachers reporting missing ballots and mistakes made by the company hired to run the election.
“This decision was not taken lightly and came after many long hours of deliberation and discussion, including legal advice as to all options to address concerns brought to Board members over the last few weeks from teachers across the state,” Okabe said in an email to members.
When asked by email why the union is not releasing more specifics on the number of teachers who complained about missing ballots or why the election issues weren’t addressed before holding the runoff, Okabe said only “it is an internal matter.”Rosenlee — who was present at the board meeting and voted in favor of certifying the election — and his running mates argue that the “only verified claim” involved complaints from approximately a dozen teachers who said they did not receive a ballot.
“In each instance, it was acknowledged that HSTA staff had promptly rectified the situation by providing a ballot and the member was able to cast a vote,” their press release said.
“Despite being requested to do so, HSTA has refused to release any information regarding any of these allegations,” the release said. “The manner in which these concerns about the election were raised and considered violated the HSTA’s Bylaws.”
At a press conference Thursday evening, Hughey said that the company hired to conduct the election sent a letter to the union saying it stood by the election results.
Furthermore, if a teacher has a problem with the election the union has a process for filing a complaint — including an internal judicial review board, Hughey said He questioned why the union did not go through that process for the complaints cited by Okabe.
If the union is going to make accusations about improprieties in the election, it should provide proof or at least more details, the candidates’ lawyer said.
Turnout is generally low for HSTA elections, with about 20 percent of the union’s 13,500 members voting in the last election. In the most recent election, 26 percent of eligible members voted, according to the release.
“I know that this has been a difficult situation for the candidates, the HSTA board members, and all of our member teachers. And I understand the frustration felt by everyone involved,” Okabe said in the statement Thursday. “But I want to assure everyone that the HSTA board is acting in the best interests of their fellow teachers to ensure a fair election.”
In the first round of voting, teachers were able to cast ballots via email. Now, however, teachers will need to cast their ballots in person on June 2 at designated school sites, unless they request an absentee ballot by May 26.