Voting ends in the special election for Honolulu City Council

Bitter rivals face off in City Council special election

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Polls have closed in the hotly-contested race for the City Council seat that represents East Oahu.

The voting ended on a strict 6 p.m. deadline Saturday and ballot counting began.

The special election pitted Incumbent Trevor Ozawa against Tommy Waters in a months-long extension of election madness.

Since the November election results were thrown out, the two candidates have spent the last few months canvassing and pushing for votes within the district.

And voter turnout was fairly good with an almost 50 percent response rate, or more than 32,200 votes being mailed-in of the roughly 60,000 ballots sent out.

Results of the special election are expected around 9 p.m. Saturday.

Unlike past general elections, which have been marred by long lines, staffing shortages and delayed results, officials expect this one to go smoothly because there are only two candidates.

[Also read: As East Honolulu special election approaches, a new issue draws more scrutiny]

While the Ozawa-Waters match-up is for a seat that covers a single City Council district, the race has taken on islandwide importance — given Ozawa’s very critical stance on the mayor.

Waters, meanwhile, has been a supporter of the administration.

If Ozawa is elected, the balance of power on the City Council will tilt toward an anti-Mayor Kirk Caldwell position. And Ozawa is almost certain to take up the chairmanship of the body.

Given those stakes, there’s been a lot of spending in the race.

In fact, Waters far outspent Ozawa in the race, scooping up ads across local media.

Firm deadline

The City Clerk’s Office stressed that mailed ballots must be received by 6 p.m. Saturday. Voters also had the option to drop off completed, mail-in ballot envelopes at Honolulu Hale before 6 p.m.

[VIDEO: Tommy Waters discusses the special election for East Oahu’s City Council seat]

Why the focus on the 6 p.m. deadline?

Because it was the city’s failure to comply with that deadline in November that prompted the state Supreme Court to side with Waters in a challenge to Ozawa’s narrow win.

Because the city couldn’t simply pluck out the ballots that had been improperly counted, a special election — at a cost of $250,000 — was called.

The number of voters who cast their ballots by mail in the special election represents about half of the 65,000 registered voters who live in City Council District IV, which runs from Diamond Head to Hawaii Kai.

“That is the largest amount of ballots we’ve received for a vote-by-mail special election," said Rex Quidilla, the city’s elections administrator.

Counting the vote

The turnout could have been higher, but election officials belatedly found out that about 2,700 voters recently moved out of the district.

Another 4,900 ballots were returned by the postal service as undeliverable.

As elections officials receive the mail-in votes, they’re feeding the ballots through a scanner and sorter to ensure that the ballots are official.

The sorter also compares voters’ signatures with digital images of signatures collected from past elections. The ones it can’t resolve are later sent to staff for review, and problem ballots are reviewed by election supervisors.

“We verify signatures for every mail piece that comes through this building, and ultimately every piece that’s deemed good and ready for counting," said Quidilla.

Finally, ballots are then placed in a secure area until they are counted on election night.

“This is a process that’s very thorough. That’s not to say it’s a perfect process. The goal is to be as error free as possible,” said election observer Cynthia Vaillancourt.

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