Fairness and rule of law got lost in last-minute flurry of election filing

This situation came about on Tuesday, the filing deadline, when Rep. Kirk Caldwell unexpectedly withdrew his candidacy for re-election to the state House from his Manoa district so that he could run for the Honolulu City Council. Caldwell’s departure meant the Democrats needed to find a candidate to replace him right away. They settled on Chrystn Eads. In order to become a candidate, she had to obtain candidate papers, get the signatures of 15 registered voters who reside in the district and file those papers by 4:30 p.m Tuesday. She did not complete all of these tasks on time.

Eads got her nomination papers before the deadline. Although she legally pulled her papers, the Office of Elections staff had already locked the door preventing anyone from leaving or entering the office. Somehow, Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz persuaded the office staff members to “err on the side of more candidates” instead of erring on the side of the law. As a result, Eads was allowed to go outside and get the signatures of a handful of people who were there at 4:30 p.m. and the rest who were not there at the 4:30 p.m. deadline.

Hawaii’s state law specifically prohibits the actions that were taken by the elections office. Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 12-6 states that candidates for state office must file their nomination papers “not later than 4:30 p.m. on the

sixtieth calendar day prior to the primary.” According to the official Candidate Manual on the Office of Elections Web site, the deadline to file nomination papers was 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. It also says that “State law prohibits exceptions or extension to the filing deadline.” Yet, somehow, an exception was given to Eads. The procedural practice dealing with the filing deadline allows anyone who arrives and is ready to file at or before the filing deadline should be allowed to file their completed nomination packet. This is the same practice used on Election Day, which allows voters in line prior to poll closure to cast their vote.

The Democrats are defending Eads’ candidacy, stating that she was there before the deadline. However, she was only in line before the deadline to obtain papers. In order to become a candidate, she had to leave the office to get the signatures, and then come back to file the papers. Her return was after the deadline. The same privilege was not extended to potential Democratic candidate Philmund Lee of Manoa. He arrived before Eads, but was told he was unable to leave the room for signatures. Schatz did not stick around to advocate for Lee, though.

This is not fair to all the candidates from all parties who were diligent, followed the law and had their completed papers in time. If this decision is allowed to stand, this would allow the state Office of Elections to rewrite the law.

Republicans who attempted to defend the law were accused of “dragging the elections into the mud” by Schatz. Since when is it “mudslinging” to stand up for fairness and demand that the law be followed?

The Democratic Party chairman is also the state chairman of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Hawaii. Obama was first elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996 because he challenged the filing process of his primary opponent, Alice Palmer. In that election, it was found that Palmer did not have enough valid signatures to qualify for the Illinois ballot. Obama was defending Illinois election law. Somehow, I do not think Schatz would accuse Obama of dragging that election into the mud. Democratic Honolulu City Council candidate Duke Bainum also is set to challenge Caldwell’s filing process.

Everyone wants competitive elections, but they need to be done in accordance with the rule of law. Our election laws were created to ensure clean and legitimate elections. There should be no exception, nor should there is any favoritism. This is why Hawaii Republicans filed a challenge to Eads’ candidacy to defend the integrity and fairness of our election laws.

Rep. Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village), is House minority leader.

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