Dale Kobayashi is still smarting.

Six months after narrowly losing a state legislative race to Rep. Isaac Choy, the longtime Manoa resident wishes Hawaii had a recount law on the books.

Kobayashi lost to Choy in the Democratic primary in August by 70 votes out of more than 5,400 votes cast. Choy won with 47.6 percent of the vote compared with 46.4 for Kobayashi.

“When a race is so close, you want to double-check the count,” Kobayashi said Wednesday.

Hawaii State House of Representative District 23 Candidate Dale Kobayashi, let, talks with Gary Maeshiro, right, at his campaign party with his supporters Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, in Honolulu. Photo by Eugene Tanner
Dale Kobayashi, left, with a supporter on the night of the Aug. 13 primary. Kobayashi narrowly lost to incumbent Rep. Isaac Choy. Eugene Tanner/Civil Beat

But Hawaii has no recount law, and the state Office of Elections told him his only recourse was to file a challenge with the Supreme Court, something he said would require covering the state’s legal costs and presenting evidence that there was reason to doubt the election result.

Kobayashi, the son of Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, is already planning to run again in 2018.

And if the race is close again, Kobayashi just might get that recount — if a bill making its way through the Legislature this session becomes law.

Senate Bill 247 calls for recounts when the margin of victory is less than 250 votes, or less than 1 percent of the votes cast.

The recount would apply to “any office at any election,” and it would take place within nine days of the election at no charge to any candidate.

Candidates or their representatives could even witness the recount, just like the Bush-Gore Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.

Sen. Brian Taniguchi, left and Rep. Isaac Choy sign-waving in Manoa on primary election day last year. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Kobayashi likes SB 247, which unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee on Feb. 3 and awaits decision-making in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday afternoon.

“It’s a great idea,” he said, noting that he outpolled Choy in a majority of the precincts in District 23. “If there is anybody out there that would agree with that bill, it’s going to be me.”

SB 247 was authored by Judiciary and Labor Chairman Gil Keith-Agaran and includes the backing of Senate heavyweights like Majority Leader Kalani English and Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda.

While most elections in Hawaii tend not to be close contests — especially when popular incumbents are on the ballot — there are still examples of races in most elections that went down to the wire.

In addition to the Choy-Kobayashi duel, the 2016 primary included six other legislative races and three county council races that were squeakers. The general election saw Republican Rep. Feki Pouha lose to newcomer Sean Quinlan, a Democrat, by a mere 108 votes out of nearly 7,000 votes cast.

The most prominent tight election in recent years was the 2014 Democratic primary between appointed U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and challenger Colleen Hanabusa, a U.S. representative.

Schatz prevailed by only 1,782 votes out of the more than 220,000 votes cast.

A third candidate, entertainer Brian Evans, pulled in 4,842 votes. Another 3,842 ballots were left blank while 150 were counted as “over” votes, meaning they came from spoiled ballots.

Schatz’s margin of victory was only 0.7 percent, which would have triggered a recount if SB 247 had been the law at the time.

A House companion bill has not been scheduled for a hearing in that chamber.

How would Choy vote on SB 247?

The lawmaker, who has held his Manoa, Punahou, Moiliili and University seat since 2008, had no comment.

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