State’s highest court decides Alice Lee won Maui County Council seat
January 20, 2023, 4:28 PM HST
* Updated January 23, 5:19 AM
Saying the plaintiffs failed to establish a viable election challenge that would “cause a difference in election results,” the Hawai’i Supreme Court decided Friday that defendant Alice Lee received the majority of the votes and has been elected to Maui County Council’s Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū seat.
The court entered judgement in favor of defendants Lee, then-County Clerk Kathy Kaohu and state Elections Office Chief Scott Nago. The decision comes on the heels of arguments held Thursday.
Lee told Maui Now that she’s “very happy” with the state Supreme Court judgement.
“I’m so excited and fired up to get back to work,” she said Friday afternoon. “Too bad today (heads into) the weekend because I would’ve loved to go to work tomorrow.”
The incumbent and former Maui County Council chairperson said this election was pivotal because the results would change the council’s political majority. Although county leaders are nonpartisan, the council majority was progressive during the most recent term.
Now, that will change, Lee said.
“I would consider five of us moderates and the other four progressive,” she said. “There are times when we agree regardless of our political leanings, though. My goal is to build consensus and to build strong relationships on the council.”
Lance D. Collins, Maui attorney who represents plaintiffs Noelani Ahia and 30 Maui County voters who challenged the election results, said the court judgement is disappointing. Plaintiffs said mistakes happened when the clerk didn’t count 706 ballots and a new election should be held. Lee had 513 votes over Ahia.
“But we take comfort in the fact that they clearly indicated that the Clerk’s Office did violate the law with respect to notice for voters,” he told Maui Now. “We are disappointed that they determined even with that, it wasn’t sufficient to order a new election.”
He added that he has yet to speak with plaintiffs about next steps, if any.
Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. issued a statement after the decision that balanced both sides.
“We respect the decision of our highest court, just as we respect the right of our citizens to bring their concerns to the court for peaceful resolution,” he said via email.
In the court’s findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgement issued Friday, one justice was dissenting.
Associate Justice Michael D. Wilson said the county clerk failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the validity of ballots and therefore 678 deficient ballots were wrongly invalidated, which exceeded the 513 margin.
Also, the court sided with plaintiffs when it came to last-minute curing notices. Justices said it was a mistake by the clerk to wait until the last minute, Nov. 12, to mail out notices to cure to 215 voters before the state-mandated curing deadline of Nov. 16.
“Thus, we find that it was an error to delay mailing the 215 notice-to-cure to voters by four calendar days to November 12, 2022,” the judgement said. “The notice-to-cure should have been mailed sooner.”
Still, the state Supreme Court said the clerk gave reasonable notice for the remaining 491 voters to cure their ballots and 215 did not exceed the 513 margin.
“We find that Defendant Alice L. Lee received a majority of the votes cast and has been elected to the office of council member for the Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū seat on the Maui County Council,” the judgement said.