Friday, August 24, 2012


I KNOW I HAD MY JOHN HANCOCK RIGHT HERE A MOMENT AGO: Sometimes an election can turn on just a few votes. A few years back the Kaua`i mayoral race was clinched by just four votes.

This year some legislative races came down to a few handfuls of votes and in the case of at least one- where turnout was alleged to have been reduced due to the Big Island county clerk's apparent incompetence- it spurred a Hawai`i Supreme Court challenge after polling places opened so late that many early-bird voters simply "gave up."

So it's no wonder that some candidates go to unusual if not illegal lengths to assure enough individual votes to assure victory.

According to reports, the loser of a Honolulu County Council race, Martin Rana Han, is challenging victor Joey Manahan's win alleging that Manahan went into voters' homes and intimidated them into filling out their mail-in, absentee ballots in his favor.

But even assuming it's true, that type of effort pales in comparison with the bad old days on Kaua`i when incumbent Mayors Eduardo Malapit and his successor "Uncle" Tony Kunimura didn't have to intimidate anyone to scoop up bucketfuls of votes from those in no position to vote for themselves.

Back in the late 70's early 80's as a Registered Nurse in training we had occasion to work in two "long term care" facilities on Kaua`i- Mahelona Hospital and the 2nd floor "Makai" unit at Wilcox Hospital.

During an early 80's election we also had occasion to speak with two nurses at Mahelona shortly after hearing that in late October the elections division folks had paid a little visit to assure the "residents"- many of whom were too infirm to make it to the polls- got their chance to vote.

That included not just those with their faculties intact but, to use decidedly unprofessional language, were little more than drooling rutabagas with vacant-gazes seemingly permanently propped-up on their tuffet in the day room.

According to the two nurses, ballots were distributed ,and if the resident was, ahem, "having trouble"- in many cases not even recognizing the pen as a writing implement much less the ballots as an instrument of voting- an election official would come by and "assist" them in voting, saying "oh, you want Uncle Tony, right?" and otherwise "properly" marking their ballots with not only votes for Kunimura but also the then-current council chair and the council majority that just coincidentally had hired the county clerk conducting the balloting.

When we asked why they didn't say something they told us that this type of activity had simply been the way it traditionally was every election year going back to Malapit and even before that.

And if they expected to keep their jobs they knew better than to try to end the practice now.

So was this an isolated situation? What about other "care homes?" We happened across two others, a nurse and nurse's aide, who worked in the "Makai" Wilcox facility and they needed little or no prodding to recount similar tales, one saying that the ballots were distributed "pre-marked" with the appropriate incumbents' names. Not only that, but apparently this practice had been a topic of hushed discussions with other healthcare professional who worked in other smaller private care homes on Kaua`i.

And those discussions left them no doubt that it was "routine" across the island for the Kaua`i elections bureau workers to mine the votes of those who didn't seem to mind if they did, thank you very much.

We doubt it's as blatant these days as it was was back in the day when the "old boys network" ruled in a far more open fashion. It was a lot easier to use the intimidation of "plantation mentality" in the days when the plantation still existed. Back then it didn't matter whether you worked for the county or state or worked somewhere else. If you expected to keep your job you were expected to keep your trap shut no matter what you saw.

But still you've gotta wonder how much it has actually changed and whether the practice of determining "voter intent" is still as cavalierly abused as it was more than 30 years ago.

Manahan isn't the only one being accused of going into people's homes and telling them what their intent is. State House candidate Romy Cachola has been similarly accused by his opponent.

If it happens in two races- that we know of- in Honolulu where the scrutiny is tenfold what it is here, it's kinda hard to say that in this "separate kingdom" of ours, where cronyism is arguably more rampant today then ever before, the abuse of our electoral system may not be tenfold worse too.

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