Chad Blair: Has Trump’s Big Lie Gained Traction In Hawaii? - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Two days before Hawaii’s primary, on Aug. 11, a national group sent a press release to local inboxes warning that “election conspiracy theorists and Trump-backed MAGA Republicans” were on the statewide ballot.

It is not news that GOP election deniers are running in local offices, as Civil Beat has reported. What the Defend Democracy Project has done is to document just how widespread it is and backed up its claims with local reporting.

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The Defend Democracy Project identifies what it says are five of the GOP’s 10 candidates for governor — including Gary Cordery and Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who ended up finishing third and fourth — hosted by an organization called Audit the Vote Hawaii and moderated by Seth Keshel. Keshel is identified by NPR and many other media as someone active in challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Also characterized as conspiracy-friendly by DDP was another GOP governor candidate, BJ Penn — he finished second, behind Duke Aiona; two Republicans running for lieutenant governor, including the winner, Seaula Jr. Tupai; and candidates for the U.S. Senate and both U.S. House seats, including the GOP nominee for CD2, Joe Akana.

The Aug. 11 press release said, “Just like Republican parties in other states, the Republican Party of Hawaii has been consumed by election conspiracy theories for the last 18 months and now election deniers are seeking office at every level.”

I don’t know that all of the local GOP has been consumed by Donald Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. But it is accurate to say that a significant number of Republican candidates this year have raised doubts about what happened.

A Hawaii GOP by Audit the Vote Hawaii and moderated by traveling election fraud conspiracy theorist Seth Keshel, according to the Defend Democracy Project.
A Hawaii GOP candidate forum on June 4 hosted by Audit the Vote Hawaii and moderated by fraud conspiracy theorist Seth Keshel, according to the Defend Democracy Project. Screenshot/2022

The heightened focus on “election integrity” comes as the Hawaii Republican Party has managed to field more candidates for office this year, increase party turnout and grow political participation in parts of the state.

Tupai sent this email response to my inquiry about DDP’s claims: “There were several discrepancies with the 2020 election that were concerning, but I stand by the rule of law. Currently, I’m focused on the 2022 election and the issues affecting local families.”

Akana sent a more detailed response that calls the Defend Democracy Project a “clearly partisan, activist group — that has no discernible ties to Hawaii.”

I don’t disagree that the project is partisan. In fact, it targets Republican candidates across the country. Regardless, the Hawaii GOP has caught the attention of the Defend Democracy Project, which says it has one objective: “that American voters determine the outcome of elections.”

DDP was founded earlier this year “to work with leading organizations, noted experts and critical validators to make sure Trump and MAGA Republicans’ plot to overturn elections can’t go forward under the cover of darkness,” Nicole Haley, DDP’s communications director, said in an email Tuesday. “We are a nonprofit, and we receive resources from individuals and groups including foundations who are concerned about the future of democracy.”

Local Sourcing

To do its work, the Defend Democracy Project posts links to videos featuring Hawaii candidates that appear to reveal that — in the case of Akana and Tupai — both are at minimum very interested in how elections are conducted in America. DDP also cites a lot of local sources including Civil Beat and media partner Hawaii News Now.

A GOP U.S. Senate candidate named Asia LaVonne, for example, wrote this in her Q&A: “When the events of Jan. 6 are fairly investigated and the incontrovertible evidence that directly and undeniably contradicts the narrative being pushed today is finally revealed, the real ‘Insurrection’ will be shown to have happened on Nov. 3, 2020, when the election was stolen from the American people.”

My colleague Nick Grube, meanwhile, reported, “Akana attended a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally in Honolulu on Jan. 6, 2021, which was the same day a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.” DDP cited that story as well.

The Defend Democracy Project links to this promotion for what it calls a Jr. Tupai attended an additional event with Seth Keshel on seeking to look “behind the election corruption curtain” in Hawaii.
The Defend Democracy Project links to this promotion for what it says shows Jr. Tupai attended an event with Seth Keshel on seeking to look “behind the election corruption curtain.” Screenshot/2022

“We want to link to and source from the best reporting which is almost always local journalists,” DDP’s Haley explained.

There are also a lot of links from DDP to websites, tweets, and Facebook and YouTube videos featuring the candidates, many of them seeming to paint a picture that some local Republicans believe 2020 was a fraud.

Whether any of this will change the outcome of elections here obviously remains to be seen. But it’s fair game for voters and reporters to ask whether these folks believe Joe Biden was indeed elected president and to press them when they merely claim to be concerned about the sanctity of the vote.

Let’s be clear: There is no evidence that Trump beat Biden. But Republicans across the country are actively seeding state and local election boards, running candidates who unabashedly say 2020 was fixed, demanding retention of voting records and laying the ground work for legal challenges in the November midterms and the presidential election two years from now.

“In poll after poll, about 70% of Republicans say they don’t think Joe Biden is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election,” Poynter reported in June.

Election Complaints

As intense as the range of sentiment may be, the Hawaii election doubters appear nowhere near as impactful as seen in battleground states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

But recall that the leader of the Hawaii chapter of the far-right extremist group Proud Boys just pleaded guilty to a felony charge for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Just two months before that dark day, Nick Ochs — a Republican — garnered 30% of the vote for a state House seat representing Waikiki. He lost to Democrat Adrian Tam.

Speaking of Hawaii elections, all eight challenges to the results of the Aug. 13 primary have since been dismissed by the Hawaii Supreme Court. Six of them involved losing Republican candidates including Penn and Cordery.

Cordery and 29 other voters alleged that voters may have been disadvantaged by how party choices were grouped on ballots, while Penn complained about “an appearance of inaccurate reporting, ballot mishandling, ballot design components, breaches at counting centers and ballot deposit sites, discrimination, voter suppression, and media violations.”

The Defend Democracy Project links to a tweet is says shows that Joe Akana attended a “Stop the Steal” rally in Honolulu on January 6, 2021.
The Defend Democracy Project links to a tweet it says shows that Joe Akana, this year a GOP candidate for the U.S. House, attended a “Stop the Steal” rally in Honolulu on Jan. 6, 2021. Screenshot/2022

Another complaint came from Adriel Lam, who lost the Republican primary for a state Senate seat to Antionette Fernandez by a scant 39 votes. Lam argued unsuccessfully that the mandatory primary recount lacked transparency, that there was a “lack of resolutions to previous inquiries regarding elections integrity,” and that “outstanding ballots” could tip the difference in his race.

Lam, it should be noted, in April saw his complaint about “the integrity of voter rolls” and others about “voting irregularities” dismissed by the Hawaii State Elections Commission.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post this week reported that Trump supporters “have swamped local election offices across the nation in recent weeks with a coordinated campaign of requests for 2020 voting records, in some cases paralyzing preparations for the fall election season.”

And The Associated Press writes, “Election officials preparing for the rapidly approaching midterm elections have one more headache: trying to combat misinformation that sows distrust about voting and results while fueling vitriol aimed at rank-and-file election workers.”

Could that happen here? Why not?

Read this next:

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

Tell me again how "The borders are secure" is not a lie when over 2 million "illegal" immigrants have crossed the border "illegally"? Who said that "we are not in a recession" when every economist worth his/her salt says we are in fact in a recession. Who said " we had "zero" inflation"? I'm just saying, since we're talking about lying......

Annoyed · 1 year ago

Every voter integrity project of the last 30-40 years has stated that absentee ballots (i.e. voter not present) demand much higher scrutiny because it virtually invites potential vote fraud. Our Office of Elections, to their credit, does signature and voter address verification and gives full access to all willing parties to the counting facilities. The failure of key mainland jurisdictions to, in so many ways, fail to uphold the same sort of secure election procedures is the source of on going suspicion regarding the presidential election of 2020.

pablocruize · 1 year ago

I'm for not supporting proxy wars. Now's whos for that?

Glen · 1 year ago

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