State Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in Maui County Council election contest
January 6, 2023, 6:00 AM HST
The state Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in a county election challenge that’s looming over Maui County Council proceedings.
Oral arguments are scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 19 in Honolulu, according to a state Supreme Court briefing issued Thursday.
Lawyers representing both sides hailed the opportunity for debate in a case that questions the outcome of the council’s Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū race between incumbent Alice Lee and challenger Noelani Ahia.
Wailuku-based attorney Peter A. Horovitz, who is representing Lee, said they’re pleased the court has set the matter for argument.
“The election challenge has been disruptive to the county and the council,” Horovitz said via email Thursday. “We are confident that the county clerk acted within the law. We look forward to answering any questions the court may have so Ms. Lee can return to work for the people of the county.”
Makawao-based attorney Lance Collins, who is representing Ahia and 30 voters challenging election results, said the court’s order points to the significance of the allegations.
“The court’s detailed order requiring more information on the election and to hold a hearing indicates the seriousness of potential voter disenfranchisement in the eyes of the court,” Collins said in a news release Thursday. “Should the court sustain the election contest, the court would order a new election for the Maui council seat.”
Meanwhile, only eight of the nine council members were seated during the inauguration ceremonies earlier this week because a certificate of election has not been issued for the Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū seat, and some decisions were put on hold until all members are present.
How long it will take to resolve the contest over the Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū residency area seat remains uncertain.
In General Election results, Lee had 22,733 votes over Ahia’s 22,220 votes — a 513 vote difference.
Ahia and 30 voters filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court after the election, claiming more than 800 ballots were mishandled. The complaint seeks to void the results and hold a new election.
In a memo to the court that opposes the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgement, then- County Clerk Kathy L. Kaohu through county lawyers said the issues are not grounds for another election and the “complained of conduct” impacted fewer ballots than the difference between Ahia and Lee.
“Not only are the issues raised by plaintiffs, namely, the process for notifying voters with deficient return identification envelopes of their opportunity to cure their deficiency pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”) 11-106 ‘not grounds for a contest for cause’ of an election as a matter of law, even if they were, the complained of conduct affected fewer ballots than the number differentiating Plaintiff Ahia from the winner of the contested race,” the memo said.
There were initially a total of 892 deficient ballots, according to the memo. After review, 27 were valid, leaving 865 in question. Of those, 53 were cured prior to Nov. 8, leaving 812 remaining with deficient return identification envelopes.
Then, another 106 were cured before the state deadline Nov. 16. That left 706 uncured, or not counted, in the General Election.
Thursday’s state Supreme Court briefing reflected similar numbers.
The document said that defendant Kaohu will have to explain how signatures were compared on return envelopes and why 706 outstanding return identification envelopes were deemed invalid, among other questions.