Voters wait in line at Holy Trinity to vote on election day 2012
Voters wait in line at Holy Trinity to vote on election day 2012
Voters wait in line at Holy Trinity to vote on election day 2012

HONOLULU- Election watchdogs are concerned Hawaii’s new law, which allows same day voter registration by the year 2018, will heighten the chances of voter fraud here.

There have been instances of voter fraud investigated in the islands, dating back to 1982. That was the year University of Hawaii law school students were caught illegally registering voters.

Their goal was to help Ross Segawa, a Democratic candidate for state House, but that scheme led to Segawa being convicted on 10 counts including election fraud, criminal solicitation and evidence tampering, for which he served 60 days in prison. He also lost the election.

Former State Sen. Clifford Uwaine also was convicted, and served three months in prison, after prosecutors determined he conspired to help Segawa by illegally register voters.

Uwaine’s aid, Debra Kawaoka, also was convicted for her role, and was sentenced to spend her weekends in prison for one year.

The 27 students involved with the scheme, including some working in the Legislature or attending the university’s law school, were caught when Segawa’s opponent noticed something odd about Segawa’s youthful supporters: on voter-registration forms, they claimed to live at the Arcadia Retirement Residence.

“They recruited people from outside the 19th district – a total of 32 known names – and used false addresses to register them on the 19th district rolls,” George Cooperand Gavan Daws wrote in Land and Power in Hawaii: The Democratic Years. “In doing this, they drew on the cooperation of friends and acquaintances, several of whom served as volunteer voter registrars, others then working in political patronage jobs in the legislature or in the office of the state attorney general, plus one person in the sheriff’s office, others again who were in law school with Segawa, and family members, up to and including Sen. (Clifford) Uwaine’s father, wife, sister, and brother-in-law. The conspiracy was discovered and made public between the primary election and general. Segawa’s political career was over before it began; Uwaine’s was ended at the next election.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, law enforcement officials involved in the 1982 case said powerful Democrat politicians tried to kill the investigation. But in the end, court records show, Segawa was convicted on 10 counts of election fraud, criminal solicitation and evidence tampering. According to the Land and Power book, Segawa served a year in prison and was expelled from the law school.

The students each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, with the stipulation that their criminal records would be wiped clean within a year, sources told Hawaii Reporter.

1998 – machines malfunction, statewide recount ensues

In 1998, the Texas-based Elections System & Software (ES&S), which provided voting machines for Hawaii’s election, announced there were problems with the voting machines.

During the general election, at least seven machines malfunctioned.

Even more concerning, several key races were won by just a handful of votes, sometimes fewer than 10, and ES&S warned there was a 1-percent margin of error, meaning they could not guarantee that the election results were accurate within plus or minus 1 percent.

There is no automatic recount provision in Hawaii law but without informing the media, the candidates or the public, the chief election officer at the time organized a manual recount of ballots from some of the seven districts, including Waianae, where Democrat Colleen Hanabusa was just elected to the state Senate.

The investigation led to the first-ever recount of nearly all of Hawaii’s general election ballots. No elections were overturned as a result.

2000- Investigators on the trail of alleged absentee ballot scheme; 2012 scrutiny continues

In 2000, in another case, two former FBI agents turned private investigators looked into allegations that state Rep. Romy Cachola, D-Kalihi, was the beneficiary of an absentee ballot scheme that boosted Cachola’s vote count.

Hilton Loui, who was in the FBI for 22 years before becoming a private investigator, was hired by the Washington DC Voter Integrity Group to look into allegations of fraud in Cachola’s district after absentee voting increased in Cachola’s district nearly 40 percent in 1998 and climbed even higher in 2000.

Statistics from the state Office of Elections showed Cachola wouldn’t have won some of his extremely close elections without these key absentee votes.

Loui said the scheme allegedly involved Cachola supervising his constituents filling out their absentee ballots, although it wasn’t clear whether he was bringing the absentee ballots to them or if they already had them. Non citizens in that district were also allegedly were voting.

Loui visited many of Cachola’s constituents in both homes and nursing homes, but he said many were from the Philippines and didn’t speak English.

“The word was Romy Cachola was passing out absentee voting forms, and that’s why there was such a high percentage of people voting by absentee,” Loui said, but noted they couldn’t prove the allegation, and he blamed in part the language barrier.

Loui and his detective partner did uncover a number of confirmed non-citizens and suspected non-citizens who voted in the Cachola district.

Honolulu City Clerk Genny Wong then determined, after cross-referencing names on the state’s registered voter rolls with the citizenship records in the state’s identification database, that a possible 543 registered voters on Oahu may have been illegally registered to vote. Wong sent out letters to them asking for proof of citizenship, and more than 100 responded, with about half providing proof, and the other half asking that their names be removed from the voter registration rolls.

Cachola was also the subject of a state Campaign Spending Commission inquiry in 2003, when then agency’s Executive Director Bob Watada sent Cachola a letter asking for explanation for why Cachola had pages of “PR expenses” listed on his 2000 campaign spending report with little detail about those receiving the compensation. Watada questioned whether the PR expenses were tied to the alleged absentee ballot scheme.

Some of the names listed in the report looked like this:

* Edward Fontanilla: No address listed, Donation $50

* Juanito Castro: No address listed, Donation $50

* Moses Imperia: No listed address, Donation $30

* Leoncio Caoili: No Address Listed, Donation $50

* Gavin Wilson: No Address Listed, Donation $50

* Ilocos Surians of Hawaii: Donation, $45

* Melanie Domingo: No address listed, Donation $100

* Joy Macapinlac: Nihipali Place Hon. 96816, Donation $50

* Naty Cabang: No address listed, Donation $50

* Myla Morales: No address listed, Donation $50

* C. Miguel: No address listed, Donation $50

Cachola served in the House from 1984 to 2000, was then elected to the Honolulu City Council, and returned back to the House in 2012 where he now serves as State House Majority Whip.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, either with his campaign funds or with elections.

However, in 2012, when Cachola ran again for the House, Cachola was the subject of media reports about his unusual election campaign tactics.

After he beat his opponent by just 120 votes in the state House race and won through the help of the absentee mail in ballots, the online news web site Civil Beat did its own investigation, and reported what Hawaii Reporter had reported in earlier years.

The Civil Beat report said: “Civil Beat granted anonymity to a Filipino family in District 30 who says Cachola forced the grandmother of the house to complete an absentee ballot as he watched.

“Anonymity was granted because family members could be subject to retaliation in the close-knit community.

“The grandmother said she received her ballot on July 28.

T”he next afternoon, Cachola visited the home when the grandmother was with the friend of a family member who did not speak Ilocano, and didn’t understand what Cachola and the grandmother were talking about.

“The grandmother said Cachola just kind of barged in.

‘He was already in the house, saying, ‘Nana, did you receive the ballot?’ she told Civil Beat in English. “I was getting ready to leave to go to a party, but he would not leave. ‘No, Nana, two minutes, sit down with me.’

“’He forced me to sit down,” she said. “He said, ‘Did you receive your ballot?’ Yes. ‘Where is it?’ So I took it and opened it. He then said, ‘Two minutes, you can do it now.’ He would not go until I finished.”

“The woman handed the ballot to Cachola, who opened it.

“And he just like forced me to do the voting in front of him, and I did not want to. I told him, ‘I have to go, I know what to do.’ So I stopped what I did, then he looked at his name. I scratched it, and he watched me do it all the way until I finished.”

“The woman said Cachola then told her to put the ballot in the state Elections Office envelope, to seal it and then give it to him to mail. He then left the house with the ballot in hand.”

Fast forward to 2014, and the Campaign Spending Commission is again looking into Cachola’s spending reports, partially for “PR expenses.”

According to a complaint filed May 7 by the state Campaign Spending Commission, Cachola used $64,000 of his campaign fund for personal use. (See Romy Cachola complaint and Romy Cachola case-exhibits.) The commission wants the money returned, and also plans to fine Cachola another $4,000.

Cachola, who had his hearing on the matter deferred twice, has hired Honolulu criminal defense attorney Michael Green to represent him. He’ll be back for the commission on July 31.

Cachola’s own report to the commission shows that in 2008 he purchased a Nissan Pathfinder from New City Nissan for $30,000. He has since spent campaign funds to buy fuel as often as three times a week, and put additional campaign funds toward car insurance, maintenance and registration, totaling $21,000.

The commission is also looking into 137 food and beverage purchases by Cachola totaling $9,000 charged to his campaign.

The so called “PR expenses” are also under scrutiny again after he spent $2,774 with little detail other than the expenses are for public relations.

Hawaii Reporter first reported on Cachola’s unusual expenses in September 2013.

2012- Hawaii Island election system under scrutiny

In another case, in 2012, Hawaii island media reported the county’s police launched an investigation into an allegation of voter fraud, but would not release any other details.

Hawaii News Now reported the probe focused on allegations “that some absentee ballots were improperly doctored.”

A state government employee, told Hawaii News Now that Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi met the state Attorney General’s office in Honolulu, but said further details about the allegations or what she spent hours meeting with a deputy attorney general about were not available.

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