The Hawaii Supreme Court has ordered the state Office of Elections and the Honolulu city clerk to provide more information regarding how mail ballots were collected for the Nov. 6 general election.

The order filed Tuesday afternoon by the high court throws another curve into election challenges that blocked Trevor Ozawa from being seated as a Honolulu City Council member for a new term after the incumbent’s 22-vote win over challenger Tommy Waters.

The court gave Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago and Honolulu City Clerk Glen Takahashi until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to provide more information regarding the procedures the office and U.S. Postal Service took to deliver the ballots and to address if any were not counted.

Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago, left at table, and Honolulu City Clerk Glen Takahashi talk to legislators during a hearing on vote-by-mail legislation in 2017.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

The elections office referred a request for comment to Takahashi, who did not respond.

In previous court filings, city lawyers wrote that USPS personnel conducted a final sweep of the mail processing plant at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport at 6 p.m. the night of the election to check for any final mail ballots.

Takahashi certified the return envelopes from the ballots around 9 p.m. on election night, according to the city’s court filing. The city said there were no extraordinary problems or issues during the ballot-counting that night.

The court did not issue a new order Tuesday in the election challenge brought by Matt LoPresti, Sen.-elect Kurt Fevella’s opponent in the general election.

Challenges were first issued Nov. 26 by LoPresti and Waters. A group of 39 East Honolulu voters also  challenged the Ozawa-Waters outcome.

The Ozawa-Waters challenges raised concerns over how mail ballots were handled by the elections office. Waters led in returns for much of the evening before losing by 22 votes.

Waters issued a statement Tuesday saying he was pleased with the Supreme Court order and calling for greater transparency from the elections office.

“As bits of information are made available, without a complete picture, they lead to additional concerns and questions,” Waters said.

LoPresti’s challenge focused on actions by workers at the Ilima Intermediate School polling location. He alleged they tampered with ballots.

All three of the complaints claim that the close margins of victory in both races, 116 votes for Fevella and 22 votes for Ozawa, fell within a “margin of error” for the voting machines used in Hawaii.

The Office of Elections responded that there is no “margin of error” with the machines.

Nago filed a 16-page answer to a court order Dec. 30 detailing why there was no margin of error and how the voting machines record marked ballots. He provided pictures showing what a proper mark looks like on a ballot as opposed to a “marginal mark” or one considered to have been made in error.

The elections office can’t certify either race until the court rules on the challenges. The court could invalidate one or both of the election results and call for a recount, as requested by the plaintiffs in each challenge.

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