The Hawaii Supreme Court on Friday dismissed an election complaint against state Rep. Romy Cachola that alleged election fraud and vote tampering in the District 30 primary.
In a 12-page ruling, the court said the anonymous voters who filed the lawsuit failed to submit evidence of specific acts or conduct that would have changed the results of the election.
“An election contest cannot be based upon mere belief or indefinite information,” stated the opinion signed by all five justices.
The court issued a swift decision following the filing of the Aug. 21 complaint. Cachola, the incumbent Democratic lawmaker who represents Kalihi and surrounding areas, faces Republican challenger Mar Velasco in the Nov. 6 general election.
The suit sought a recount of the ballots and removal of Cachola’s name from the general election ballot in addition to investigations into any wrongdoing by the State Ethics Commission and Office of the Attorney General.
Despite the dismissal, the justices didn’t completely disregard the complaint’s contention that Cachola unlawfully coerced patients of his wife’s Kalihi medical clinic to fill out mail-in absentee ballots in his favor.
“Plaintiffs accuse Cachola of criminal actions and request that the matter be referred to various law enforcement agencies. These allegations are serious and may warrant further investigation,” the ruling stated.
Neither Michael Green, Cachola’s attorney, nor Aaron Wills, an attorney for the plaintiffs, could be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
Unidentified voters named “Jane and John Doe Voters 1-47” filed the election complaint shortly after the primary. They alleged Cachola engaged in vote fraud by intimidating mostly elderly, first-generation Filipino immigrants in Kalihi to vote for him by mail-in ballot. They also sued Hawaii’s chief election officer Scott Nago in his official role, arguing he failed to prevent vote tampering through less than robust procedures governing the collection and counting of absentee mail-in ballots.
Under Hawaii statute, any candidate, qualified political party or at least 30 voters of a district can bring an election challenge. The plaintiffs in this case chose to remain anonymous to avoid negative reactions in their community, according to their lawyer.
The two declarations that alleged actual witnessing of election fraud were also sealed from review by the defendants and could only be viewed confidentially by the justices. In their motions for dismissal of the suit, both Cachola and Nago argued the allegations were unfounded since they couldn’t review those declarations.
Cachola slipped by his primary opponent, Sonny Ganaden, by a 51-vote margin, 920 to 869. Cachola received fewer walk-in votes, but prevailed on mail-in ballots — a similar pattern to his 2012 and 2016 wins. Cachola’s history of cruising to victory based on mail-in ballots — his percentage of mail-in ballots received has consistently surpassed the state average — has caused speculation by some of vote fraud and illegal political activity.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said an election contest “is not the appropriate basis to seek relief from these alleged criminal activities.”
It also found no flaws in the integrity of the Office of Election’s procedures.
“It appears that there is a system in place, governed by statute and administrative rules, in the oversight, handling and processing of absentee ballots on election day, as well as preventing the possibility of double voting by absentee mail voters,” the court wrote.
Read the ruling here:
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.