ACLU of Hawaii Challenges Results of Misleading Ballot Initiative in State Supreme Court

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
November 22, 2002 12:00 am

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HONOLULU — Saying that state officials here failed to follow prescribed procedures when presenting a ballot initiative to citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii today filed a lawsuit in state supreme court seeking to invalidate the result of the ratification vote on constitutional amendment Question 3 and prevent inclusion of the amendment in the state’s Constitution.

“Due to the state’s negligence, on Election Day many voters voted in the dark, relying on the state’s misinformation without ever seeing the text of the amendment,” said Lunsford Dole Phillips, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Hawaii who submitted today’s brief.

The ACLU lawsuit, Watland v. Cayetano, was filed on behalf of 46 registered voters who said that the state’s failure to follow prescribed procedures and its breach of duty to present ballot issues with objectivity, neutrality and accuracy undermined their right to cast informed votes and compromised the fundamental fairness of the election.

Question 3 amends the state Constitution to eliminate the right of citizens to have a grand jury or a judge to review felony charges against them to ensure that there is sufficient basis for the charges.

The amendment affects long-existing constitutional protections, the ACLU said. Across the state, 60 percent voted “yes” to the amendment, while “no” and blank votes totaled 40 percent.

According to the ACLU complaint, the Voter Information Pamphlet prepared and disseminated by state officials to every registered voter misrepresented the content of the proposed amendment and wrongly presented future possibilities as to how information charging might work as present fact. While disseminating this misinformation, state officials also failed to follow constitutionally mandated procedures requiring them to publish the text of the amendment in newspapers and to make the text available at all public libraries.

“Regardless of what anyone may think about the issue, voters have an undeniable right to see the text of the amendment that they are voting on and to not be misled by the government,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii.

The ACLU brought the initial lawsuit, Watland v. Yoshina, on behalf of two registered voters. Today’s lawsuit was expanded to include a larger group of voters and add Governor Benjamin Cayetano as a defendant.

A Supreme Court majority denied an ACLU emergency motion filed before the general election regarding these same issues due to a technicality, but allowed the group to file a lawsuit after the election.

The amendment was also opposed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Japanese American Citizens League of Hawaii, Teamsters, League of Women Voters, Hawaii Association of Criminal Defense attorneys and state public defenders.

The ACLU legal complaint is online at /node/35080

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