A couple of races went neck and neck in the general election. The closest was for Honolulu Council District IV, from Hawai’i Kai to Ala Moana Beach Park. That was between incumbent Trevor Ozawa and Tommy Waters. Now the Hawaii Supreme Court is saying the elections for this race and one other are not certified just yet.
Councilman Ozawa only gained 22 more votes than Waters. Senate candidate Kurt Fevella won by 116 votes for District 19 against Dr. Matt LoPresti.
Waters and LoPresti called for a recount. Now the Hawaii Supreme Court is stepping in.
On Friday, the five Justices ordered state and city election officials to provide the following to Waters and LoPresti:
-information setting forth the margin of error for the electronic vote counting machines when applying the tabulation procedures, and
-information setting forth how the intent of the voter is ensured in a close election without a hand count.
“The Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision in my favor on both counts is welcomed and unexpected. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it’s an important victory for open and transparent elections for Hawaii,” said LoPresti.
“In this case, they seemed to have ruled that hey this matters. If we don’t know what the margins of error are, then it impinges upon free and fair elections because you don’t know if you need to do a recount unless you know what the margins of error are,” said LoPresti.
We were not able to get a hold of Fevella or Waters for comment. A spokeswoman tells us Councilman Ozawa was not available for an interview.
The Office of Elections says it cannot comment on pending litigation. However, tells us the office will be responding to the Supreme Court order. It confirmed that the elections of Fevella and Ozawa are currently uncertified. This comes at a time when Ozawa’s inauguration is scheduled for Wednesday.
“If we can’t certify the election of Council Member Ozawa, then we’ll not be able to install him as a City Council Member or Chair of the Council. I would stay Chair Pro Tem temporarily until we can resolve the leadership of the council,” said Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine.
Councilwoman Pine says they’ll be meeting with lawyers on Monday to go over their options but whatever happens, the City Council will continue its work.
“We have to select committees but I don’t see that impacting permanently,” said Councilwoman Pine, “for example the budget committee, Councilman Ozawa chaired at the time. We would need to fill that no matter what because he was either going to leave that position or we need to replace that position.”
We spoke with political analyst Dr. John Hart of Hawai’i Pacific University. He says he too is surprised at the Supreme Court’s move, as the bar for a recount is very high.
“The fact that the Supreme Court has signaled they’re willing to hear the case indicates they’re willing to reconsider some point of the law. Which means things will change. Otherwise, they would have simply said ‘We don’t want to hear the case, it’s settled law.’ So the fact that they have said they will hear indicated that they will probably change the law in this case,” he said.
Dr. Hart reiterates that the state Elections Office cannot certify election results until the Supreme Court rules. The Office of Elections and the other defendants named will have three days from Friday to provide the information.