Absentee ballot fraud incident has Kauai police, elections officials on alert


U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who represents the island of Kauai, fills out her election ballot ahead of election day. For those voting by mail, elections officials say to make sure the applicant receives the ballot in seven days.

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

KAUAI — Kauai resident Brent Woods ordered an absentee ballot for Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary election, but never received the ballot.

So when he got a call from the Kauai County Clerk’s office telling him they couldn’t process his ballot because he returned it filled out, but unsigned, he was surprised.

Woods told the clerk about his stolen absentee ballot, later filing a police report.

Woods told Watchdog.org he wants to warn other Kauai residents voting by absentee ballot to watch their mail.

“When my ballot was stolen, I felt so violated. I am very concerned about corruption here on the island,” Woods said, noting the upcoming mayoral election is extremely heated.

The elections division of the Office of the County Clerk sent out a statement Tuesday acknowledging the incident and affirming they are working with the Kauai Police Department and others to conduct an investigation.

“This recent event is of great concern to our office. We wish to note that the procedures we have in place to process absentee mail ballots were able to alert both the voter and our office of the situation,” County Clerk Ricky Watanabe said. “Fortunately, this appears to be an isolated case, but we ask that anyone with information on this incident to please contact the Kauai Police Department.

Absentee mail voting procedures are “very stringent”, Watanabe said, requiring that the voter sign an affirmation statement on the back of the ballot return envelope. The signature is verified against the voter’s signature on an official document on file in the elections division. The ballot counts only if the signatures on the return ballot envelope and document are the same.

If there is no signature — or no matching signature — on the affirmation statement, the voter is contacted. If the voter doesn’t sign the affirmation statement or respond to follow-up attempts before the close of polls at 6 p.m. on Election Day, the ballot isn’t counted, Watanabe said.

Under Hawaii law, voter fraud is committed when a person registers another person to vote when that person isn’t entitled to register to vote; votes when the person is not entitled to vote; makes any false statement of fact; or makes a false answer to any question. Committing voter fraud is a Class C felony offense, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.

Absentee mail ballot applicants who do not receive a ballot within seven days of mailing their application to the Kauai County Clerk should call the elections division at 808-241-4800, Watanabe said.