The Hawaii Supreme Court last week tossed out an election complaint against state Rep. Romy Cachola by dozens of voters in his Kalihi Kai House district who accused the longtime politician of election fraud and vote tampering.
The ruling is disappointing because the court is one place that Cachola’s campaign practice of collecting and mailing ballots for residents in his district could have been scrutinized more closely. Voters who filed the case alleged that the way he does it involves multiple violations of state and federal law.
The high court said there was not enough evidence for it to step into the case. But the justices also strongly suggested that law enforcement should take a close look.
“Plaintiffs accuse Cachola of criminal actions and request that the matter be referred to various law enforcement agencies,” the justices said. “These allegations are serious and may warrant further investigation.”
Yes, they are serious and yes, they do warrant further investigation. These rumors of bad behavior have persisted for years.
It’s time for Hawaii’s attorney general and the leadership in the House of Representatives to listen to the high court and conduct investigations. House rules for investigating member misconduct include the power to subpoena witnesses to interview them under oath.
State Rep. Romy Cachola, center, stands at the Farrington High School graduation in May 2015. He has held political office in the Kalihi area for years.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Cachola barely scraped by opponent Sonny Ganaden in the Aug. 11 primary. He won the by the narrowest of margins as compared with other state House races. Cachola also prevailed with an unusually large percentage of mail-in ballots, a pattern also seen in his 2012 win over primary challenger Nicole Velasco.
The recent lawsuit as well as similar allegations in 2012 raise concerns that Cachola is manipulating the absentee voting process. “A suspicious and irregular submission of last-minute ‘mail in drop off’ ballots which were counted after 3:00 am the morning after the election swung the election in Cachola’s favor,” the lawsuit said.
The allegations against Cachola are centered on the fact that his wife runs a medical clinic in his district, home to many Filipino immigrants and Filipino-Americans who rely on the clinic for care.
“Cachola uses the implicit threat of diminished healthcare to register individuals and ensure that he is voted into office,” the complaint alleges. “He has done this with impunity in a community with limited English proficiency that is suspicious of governmental authority and respects the practice of medicine.”
Cachola dismisses the concerns. But in an interview with Civil Beat earlier this year he acknowledged that he does help voters cast their ballots. “Sometimes if they are more or less disabled, cannot walk, (and they ask), can you just submit it or mail it? I’ll mail it,” he said. “But you know what, it’s allowed. Check with the Office of Elections.”
Cachola was referring to absentee mail-in ballot form applications. Perhaps his voter assistance practice is as benign as he describes it. But, as we wrote last month when the lawsuit was filed, voters of House District 30 as well as the entire state have the right to know whether or not Romy Cachola is intimidating voters. That would be a crime that an elected official should not be allowed to get away with year after year.
Cachola faces Republican challenger Mar Velasco in the Nov. 6 general election.
You can bet that a lot of people will be keeping a close eye on the race’s outcome, and where the votes come from. The AG and House leadership should, too.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.