The state Supreme Court has invalidated the election for Honolulu City Council District 4, in which incumbent Trevor Ozawa had led challenger Tommy Waters.
State law now requires Gov. David Ige to schedule a special election within 120 days in the sprawling district that stretches from Waikiki to Hawaii Kai.
The high court ruled against the state Office of Elections in favor of Waters and a group of 39 East Honolulu voters who challenged the results of the Nov. 6 election that showed Ozawa ahead by just 22 votes.
Meanwhile, Council Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said the Council will appoint a temporary District 4 council member, most likely sometime during a special meeting on the week of Feb. 3. She said other council members and community members have started suggesting names.
“It’s just unfair to the people of that district” to leave the seat vacant until the election, she said
She ruled out appointing Ozawa or Waters, or people who worked on their campaigns. “We want someone who is unbiased, though that’s hard to find,” she said.
Absentee Ballots Arrived Too Late
The court declared that 350 absentee mail votes collected after 6 p.m. from a U.S. Postal Service airport facility should not have been counted because they were collected too late on election night.
Hawaii’s election law requires that all the mail ballots must be received by the Honolulu City Clerk the close of polls on election day, which in this case was 6 p.m.
The city argued before the high court last week that the USPS system could be considered a designee for the city clerk, so any ballots received before 6 p.m. should be valid.
However, the court said that City Clerk Glen Takahashi did not delegate the authority to collect ballots to anyone.
“No party has provided a declaration or document indicating an individual, group, or entity had been designated as the city clerk’s representatives at the Honolulu Airport mail processing facility on election day,” the court wrote in its 55-page decision.
The court also wrote that the 350 absentee ballots were commingled with other ballots that were collected before the 6 p.m. deadline, making it impossible to determine how many votes went to each candidate.
“I am very pleased with the Hawaii Supreme Court decision today and grateful for the hard work of the Justices,” Waters told Civil Beat in a text message. “I look forward to a spirited special election.”
Ozawa was blocked from being sworn in for a new City Council term Jan. 2, when it was expected he’d have enough votes to be elected council chair.
“If a new election needs to be held, I look forward to bringing my message of government accountability and transparency back to the voters and to prevailing in an election for a third time against Mr. Waters,” Ozawa told Civil Beat. “Mr. Waters’ lawsuit has caused the residents of District IV to have no representation on the council, and my only regret is the amount of wasted taxpayer’s money and time that Mr. Waters’ lawsuit will result in should a new election be held.”
Three residents in the district filed a petition against the City Council on Thursday asking that they hold off on voting until a council member is seated because residents in District 4 currently have no representation on the council.
Those residents write in the petition that they “deserve the right to Councilmember representation protecting their assets, chattel, welfare, health happiness, and safety.”
The new election potentially has significant political implications. Waters is a political ally of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. If he wins, pro-Caldwell council members would hold a 5-4 majority on the council.
On Jan. 10, the council elected Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi to serve as interim chair. Resolution 18-294, which passed with all eight of the currently seated council members, says that the council wants to postpone electing a permanent chair until a council member for District 4 is chosen.
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell