Honolulu City Council is looking for more explanation of online election glitches.

The Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board incumbent who asked for a re-vote after a series of computer glitches has won the repeat election, and the Honolulu City Council is asking for a written report on what went wrong with the original vote.

In early June, Paige Altonn, who has served on the board for more than nine years, appealed her defeat by Dylan Buck, a political newcomer who is an employee of the Honolulu Neighborhood Commission, which oversees neighborhood board elections.

In the original election, Buck defeated Altonn by receiving 17 votes, while Altonn received 14, for a total of 31 votes cast.

In the repeat vote, which ended July 7, Altonn defeated Buck by winning 66 votes to 41, a total of 107.

Hawaii Kai East Oahu Maunalua Bay Hahaione Valley Koko Marina aerial.
After voters in Hawaii Kai complained about computer log-in problems when they voted, the city held a repeat election for one subdistrict. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018)

In June, Altonn protested that in the area where she lives many dozens of voters typically cast votes in the board election but that she and others in the community got locked out of the computer system when they attempted to record their votes during the previous go-round.

Elections for the 33 Oahu neighborhood board elections are conducted electronically, with registered voters receiving log-in and password information through letters they receive in the mail. Voters can request paper ballots or vote in person if they choose to do so.

Altonn said she was glad that the city had held a repeat election, which she said proceeded flawlessly, and that she had won back her seat. “I feel it was a more legitimate election and I’m really proud to still be representing this district.”

Buck wrote he had accepted the results and urged community members to register for the next election to boost neighborhood board participation.

Council Raises Questions

At a council committee meeting on June 20, Honolulu Council Chair Tommy Waters told city officials, including Lloyd Yonenaka, executive secretary of the Neighborhood Commission, that questions had been raised about election results in that Hawaii Kai area, and that the turnout had been unusually low.

Waters sponsored a resolution, adopted July 12, requiring the Neighborhood Commission and city Department of Information Technology to provide an update on their election procedures and issue a written report on the problematic first election.

“As we go forward, we want to make sure that our election process is sound, fair and equitable to all candidates,” Waters said.

Yonenaka conceded that there had been problems but said that both candidates had agreed to the rematch, which would resolve the matter. He said he would write a report with an update on what had happened during the election and that in the future, the commission would do so every year to better inform the public on the process.

This year’s neighborhood board election was controversial in other ways. Other Oahu residents elsewhere on the island also reported problems after the first election was held, with some saying that vote totals seemed unusually low.

Critics had also questioned why nine neighborhood commission employees were running for seats on the boards, calling it unusual, and wondering whether city officials hoped to influence community groups in this way. Neighborhood commission employees said they joined the race because they wanted to become more active in civic life and that their work experience would make them useful additions to the boards.

Seven of the nine were elected to board seats, which are volunteer positions.

The neighborhood affected by the computer glitch was in Hawaii Kai subdistrict 11, known as the Maunalua Triangle, Koko Kai community and Portlock Road. (Provided: Neighborhood Commission Office)

Neighborhood board elections are only held in races that are contested and feature more than one candidate. Where incumbents are running unchallenged, no election is held and the neighborhood commission does not directly inform residents that an election is occurring.

City officials say this system saves money because they do not need to mail information to voters who don’t really have a choice to make, but critics say this means that many island residents are unaware that an election is underway.

Two-thirds of the neighborhood board races were uncontested this year, with many of the seats inevitably filled by incumbents.

Concerns Remain

Altonn said she remains disturbed about the overall election process.

As she has checked with her Hawaii Kai neighbors to see what had happened when they voted the first time, she learned that some got ballots in the mail while others did not. She said she wondered if the election registrations information is incomplete.

Two other long-term neighborhood board members told the city council in testimony that they were also concerned about what had happened.

Greg Knudsen, who serves on the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, said that when he first ran for the board in 2001, there were many more people vying for the posts and more people following the results of the election.

“There were a lot more candidates and there was more publicity for it,” Knudsen said. “Now just about every position is not contested. It has kind of hurt participation in neighborhood board elections.”

Lynne Matusow, a former member of the Downtown/Chinatown Neighborhood Board, who held the post for more than two decades, called the election snafu “disgraceful.”

“This must stop and the 2025 elections should revert to paper ballots only, as elections are run in the state,” Matusow told the council in testimony commenting on Water’s resolution.

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