Pending lawsuit over vote counting protocols keeps major Maui County Council seat vacant
WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It has been one week since Maui County Council members took the oath of office. However, one seat remains vacant because of a pending lawsuit.
The Hawaii Supreme Court will now have to decide if a new election is necessary to move forward.
“The court has two choices. They can either declare who the winner is, or they can declare that a winner cannot be determined based on mistakes and errors, and then that would trigger a new election,” said attorney Lance Collins.
The lawsuit was filed by Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu council candidate Noelani Ahia and about 30 other voters.
Ahia had 513 fewer votes than incumbent and long-time politician Alice Lee in the November election.
The lawsuit claims more than 800 ballots were mishandled.
“I believe that the lawsuit has no merit,” Lee said. “Our staff did everything according to law. Our staff is well-trained. They were well-prepared for this, and all elections. We’re talking about a brand-new candidate. It’s really too bad she wasn’t familiar with the processes.”
Oral arguments have been set for next week. However, there is no telling when the state Supreme Court will make a decision.
Until then, it can be difficult for the council to make decisions with an even number of members. Many decisions could be stalled because of a 4-4 split.
“The council is paralyzed until the ninth member is seated,” said incumbent Alice Lee. That’s why there’s an odd number. Most boards and commissions have odd numbers. They don’t have even numbers for this reason.”
Collins says one missing councilmember is “not really a big issue.”
“Council members have demonstrated that they can work together, and they’ve been able to make a whole bunch of decisions,” he said. “Council members get sick, council members go on vacations, and yet the business of the council is able to continue forward.”
Oral arguments are set for next Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Hawaii Supreme Court.
The next council meeting is set for Friday, January 27th.
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