In challenge to narrow City Council loss, court zeroes in on absentee ballots

In challenge to narrow City Council loss, court zeroes in on absentee ballots
Voters in Honolulu participate in early walk-in voting ahead of the general election. (Image: Gray TV) (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A disputed City Council race decided by 22 votes could hinge on absentee ballots picked up after polling places had closed on the day of the general election.

In court documents filed Thursday, Honolulu’s city clerk told the state Supreme Court that on the evening of the general election, his office picked up 350 absentee ballots cast in the disputed 4th District City Council race at the U.S. Postal Service’s airport facility. The pickups happened at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

In a sworn declaration due at noon Thursday, Clerk Glen Takahashi said the USPS personnel were instructed before the election not to include any absentee envelopes that arrived after 6 p.m. in the two pre-arranged pick-ups. They were to “sweep” the postal facility and gather the absentee return envelopes at a specific window.

But the clerk’s written declaration also concedes that it was unable to get the USPS to submit its own statement verifying that it followed those instructions and the 6 p.m. deadline was honored.

The timeframe is crucial in the Supreme Court’s review of the race, in which incumbent Trevor Ozawa got only 22 more votes than challenger Tommy Waters.

Waters has challenged the count, arguing that ballots picked up by the clerk after the 6 p.m. deadline for voting should not have been counted.

The court asked the state and city to explain the specific process that ensured that no ballots received at the post office after 6 p.m. were counted.

In order to reject the election, the court would have to find potential errors that affected enough ballots to possibly change the outcome.

If the court decides that the 350 ballots the clerk collected after 6 p.m. should not have been counted, it is unclear if they were tracked carefully enough to remove those votes from the tally.

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