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Mandatory Election Recounts Now Law in Hawaii

Hawaii already had a recount law in place, but now recounts are mandatory whenever the margin is as little as 100 votes.

Hawaii Democratic Gov. Josh Green has signed a bill establishing that a recount must be conducted when the difference in votes cast in any state election for the apparent winning candidate and the closest "apparently defeated" candidate is equal to or less than 100 votes, or 0.25 percent of the total number of votes cast, whichever is lesser.

Previously, a mandatory recount was conducted when the difference in votes was equal to or less than 100 votes or 0.25 percent of the total number of votes cast, whichever was greater.

According to testimony in support of the bill from Chief Election Officer Scott Nago, the modification of the mandatory recount threshold "addresses the margin of votes between candidates in small races."

Nago wrote that since mandatory recounts began in 2020, the Office of Elections conducted 11 automatic recounts—a "vast majority" of which resulted from small single-party primary contests.

During the 2022 Primary Election, the Office of Elections conducted an automatic recount for the District 20 state representative seat because there was a vote difference of 87, but the percentage difference was 6.7 percent of all votes cast.

Candidates involved in the mandatory recount will not be charged, and the recount must be completed and the results announced within five business days following the election, amended from 72 hours from the closing of the polls on Election Day.

The filing deadline for a contest complaint with the state Supreme Court arising from a mandatory recount is the same as the filing deadline for contests that did not require a mandatory recount.

The office of the Governor wrote in a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that it is "important that the people have faith in an election and its process."

"Automatic recounts help ensure that when the results are close, the system is designed to re-check itself so that the final outcome is one that our citizens know is accurate," the statement read. "Especially given some of the political rhetoric that has gone on in past elections about the results in other states, it is important for our Hawaii citizens to know that our system and the outcomes are valid."

The state law mandating automatic recounts for contests with such narrow margins was passed in 2019, following a close 2018 general election contest for a state Senate seat.

In the 2022 primary election, six races—five seats for the state Legislature and one for the Kauai County Council—required mandatory recounts.

Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters wrote in a statement to the Star-Advertiser that he is "disappointed " in the new law because it lowers the threshold needed for mandatory recounts.

"Candidates work exceptionally hard to serve our community and in my humble opinion, mandatory recounts provide confidence, both for candidates and the voting public," Waters said in the statement. "In the future, I hope the state will consider reinstating the current threshold and mandating that the recounts be by hand and not just fed back through the machine. Public trust in this process is essential and we should do better."

Waters asked for a recount in both his 2014 and 2018 City Council District 4 races against Trevor Ozawa. He lost his 2014 race by 41 votes, and his 2018 race by 22 votes. Ozawa's 2018 narrow-margin victory was invalidated by the state Supreme Court after it found that state elections officials collected mail-in ballot envelopes after 6 p.m., violating state rules. Waters won the do-over special election held in April 2019.

©2024 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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