Please, Office Of Elections, Do The Math For Us On Primary Night - Honolulu Civil Beat


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The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel, John Hill and Keona Blanks. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Maui Mayor Mike Victorino was visiting a Honolulu television newsroom recently when a reporter asked him how his reelection was going. Would there be a winner declared the night of Aug. 13?

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Victorino corrected the reporter, telling him that under Maui County rules the top two finishers — regardless of their voting percentages — will advance to the Nov. 8 general for a runoff.

It may include Victorino, retired judge Rick Bissen, Maui County Councilwoman Kelly Takaya King, Councilman Mike Molina or one of the other four mayoral candidates seeking to lead the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.

It’s a hot contest, and a lot of people are interested in the final tally. The problem is that voters statewide may not be aware of how Maui County actually configures its runoff criteria, as it is not easy to find online.

Adding to the uncertainty is that, while Kauai elects its mayor the same way as Maui, the City and County of Honolulu and Hawaii County both allow mayoral candidates that garner 50% of the vote plus one (excluding blank and over votes — i.e., spoiled — ballots) to win the race outright. Similar formulas apply to races for county councils and prosecutors.

It is a county decision as to how it determines electoral outcomes, but it is the state Office of Elections that receives all the votes from the counties and reports all the results on primary election night. The state, however, does not explicitly explain that same night who wins these county races or who advances to the general.

An excerpt from the Hawaii Office of Elections results for the 2020 primary.
An excerpt from the Hawaii Office of Elections results for the 2020 primary. It does not indicate who advanced to general election runoffs. The Kauai County Council primary calls for the top 14 finishers to move on the general at which time the top seven vote-getters are elected. Screenshot/2022

This has often confused voters and the media who must do the math themselves. The formula — adding up the total votes for the candidates and subtracting the blank and over votes to determine if anyone received 50% plus one — is not to be found on the Office of Elections website.

“It’s very confusing,” said Colin Moore, a political science professor and director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “I have to look up the rules for each county every year.”

One other election gripe along these same lines: While races for the Legislature are dominated by Democrats and a handful of Republicans, Green and Libertarian candidates are also usually in the hunt for some races. Winners of their respective primaries will advance to the general. Same goes for Aloha Aina Party candidates.

But that is not the case for nonpartisan candidates, unless they receive at least 10% of the votes cast for the office or receive a vote equal to or greater than the lowest vote received by the partisan candidate who was nominated. More math!

Here’s a thought: Have the Office of Elections automatically calculate the voting numbers and then indicate that information clearly on the primary election summary posted online. Ballots are optically scanned and tabulated electronically, after all.

Moore, one of Hawaii’s premier political observers, suggests that the Office of Elections even publish an additional page where the winners are clearly reported.

“It would take very minimal effort to create such a page,” he said.

If the Office of Elections needs a little help doing the vote calculations, the Hawaii Legislature could help out with the necessary budget allocation. Elections are a foundation of democracy, are they not?

Here’s another thing the Legislature could do: Amend the Hawaii Revised Statute that requires the counting of blank and questionable ballots in addition to the valid ballots.

The elections offices in Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington state do not report blank and over votes in their respective primaries. Why do we?

Don’t Forget OHA

It’s not just the county offices in Hawaii that are hard to determine in terms of primary results. The 50% plus one vote also applies to races for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees.

What makes OHA races even more confusing in terms of deducing primary winners and who advances to the general is that many voters — often a majority — don’t even bother to vote for trustees. This is an unfortunate reality even though all voters are allowed to vote in OHA races and candidates do not need to be Native Hawaiian.

Fortunately, OHA takes care to explain in some detail on its website how its races work, including through the use of bold and italics typeface.

Example: “For the at-large position, the eleven candidates will appear on the primary ballot and the top six candidates (twice the number of 3 available seats) will go to the general election ballot, unless one candidate receives 50% +1 vote (if so, that candidate will be declared duly and legally elected and the number of available seats and general election candidates will be reduced accordingly).”

Yes, it can still be bewildering. But at least it’s explained and accessible and easier to understand than the information on OHA races presently posted by the Office of Elections.

Scott Nago, the chief elections officer, explains that the winners of all contests are posted eventually but not until the deadline passes for election challenges to the Hawaii Supreme Court. This year, that day is Aug. 26.

Nago also says that his office has five business days to notify voters if there is some discrepancy regarding a voter’s signature on their ballot.

And Hawaii also has a fairly new recount law, Nago observes, triggered by two candidates separated by a margin of 0.25% or 100 votes of the total number of votes cast, whichever is greater.

Those scenarios are all understandable. Obviously, some races may be too close to call, and the Office of Elections will ultimately certify the final results.

But the overwhelming number of races will be decided on primary election night. It would be a tremendous public service for our government to let us know exactly who won what.


Read this next:

The Civil Beat Editorial Board Interview: Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel, John Hill and Keona Blanks. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

1. Four states "do not report blank and over votes in their respective primaries. Why do we?" I’d ask why don’t they? I would hope they at least keep track of them and that they’re available to the public.2. I, for one, would like to know the blank and over ballots count. The blank vote is a form of protest; the gov’t and the public should note that. Over ballots tell me how many people didn’t understand how to vote - hmm, not a good sign.

cmoi · 1 month ago

If I vote for a non-partisan candidate, I basically cannot vote in the primary for anyone else. This being the case, maybe I’ll just leave the whole thing in the trash. The election process is designed to maintain the status quo. I am not really feeling connected to any of it. I could be a Dem but they disappoint just like the GOP. The Dems platform is just platitudes they cannot execute on. GOP is like flypaper for nutty people. Non-partisans are kept out. You guys win. I am done. Thanks.

Sqwauk8O8 · 1 month ago

Who benefits from making elections this complicated?

RedStateHawaii · 1 month ago

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