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Hawaiʻi Supreme Court declares incumbent Alice Lee the winner in contested Maui election

Incumbent candidate for Maui County Council, Alice Lee, presides over the council in this 2022 photo.
Courtesy Alice Lee
Incumbent candidate for Maui County Council, Alice Lee, presides over the council in this 2022 photo.

Following oral arguments one day prior, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court found Friday that incumbent candidate Alice Lee received a majority of the votes cast and has been elected to the office of councilmember for the Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū seat. The court said the county may certify the election.

In its judgment, the court said the plaintiffs failed to establish that the votes needed to win the election were unaccounted for.

Before the ruling, the Maui County Council was one member short as the court mulled the contested election.

Incumbent Councilmember Alice Lee claimed the Wailuku seat on Maui by 513 votes in November, but the election still had not been certified.

A lawsuit challenging the results went before the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court.

Among allegations, plaintiffs claimed the county didn’t properly notify voters of insufficient ballots. Attorney Lance Collins represented 30 Maui residents who filed suit, including Lee’s opponent in the race, Noelani Ahia.

Noelani Ahia
Courtesy Noelani Ahia
Noelani Ahia

"They didn't give out notice the day after the election because they were busy apparently sweeping the floors and putting things in boxes at the community center," Collins said. "Based on the clerk's declaration, we also believe that that was unreasonable because I just don't understand how it's possible to start working on post-election things while the election is still in process."

The case brought into question what can be defined as a “reasonable notification” to cure ballots. Collins said some voters got their notifications to fix their ballots after the deadline.

Maui County Attorney Caleb Rowe said the County Clerk’s Office sent out notices in a timely fashion that explained why the vote was not yet counted and how to get in contact with the clerk.

"It lets the voter know that their ballot hasn't been counted, it indicates what the reason for deficiency is, and then instructs them on how to clear that up," Rowe said Thursday.

"If you look at what if you look at the actual information that has been presented by the plaintiffs as to how long mail takes, then it was reasonably calculated that this would be received the day before the cure period was ending," Rowe said. "In addition to that, the County Clerk's Office did call an additional 407 individuals to inform them of this."

The court could have either validated the election and let the county certify the results, or invalidated it, which would have forced a special election.

Read the full decision below or click here to open a new window.

Updated: January 20, 2023 at 3:32 PM HST
The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruled in Alice Lee's favor at 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20.
Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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