ACLU of Hawaii Files Lawsuit to Halt Voting On Misleading Ballot Amendment

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
October 23, 2002 12:00 am

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HONOLULU–The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii today filed a lawsuit in state Circuit Court on behalf of two registered voters who allege that state voter education materials on a public referendum issue violates their fundamental right to vote because the materials are inaccurate and misleading.

“In a democracy it is incumbent upon the government to ensure the integrity of the elections process by ensuring that voters have been given fair and accurate information,” said Lunsford Dole Phillips, an ACLU of Hawaii cooperating attorney. “The state has failed to provide accurate information, thereby undermining the democratic process.”

The language of the proposed constitutional amendment, which was passed by the state senate and appears on the ballot as Question No. 3, reads: “Shall Hawaii’s constitutional provision regarding the initiation of criminal charges be amended to permit criminal charges for felonies to be initiated by a legal prosecuting officer through the filing of a signed, written information setting forth the charge in accordance with procedures and conditions to be provided by the state legislature?”

The lawsuit, Watland v. Yoshina, was filed on behalf of registered voters A. Joris Watland and Eric Gene Schneider and alleges that the voter education materials disseminated by the state Office of Elections and the Legislative Reference Bureau are false and misleading and are in violation of the state and federal constitutions. As a result, voters like Watland and Schneider, who are neither lawyers or hold specialized knowledge of criminal procedure, cannot make an informed decision.

According to the lawsuit, ACLU attorneys are seeking a court order directing election officials to stop the voting on Question No. 3 and to ensure that no votes cast on the question are counted or tabulated. The lawsuit also asks the court to order the state to cease dissemination of misleading information and to inform voters that previous information was inaccurate.

Under the law, each state library is supposed to have voter educational materials available. But according to Schneider, “I went to my neighborhood library and could not locate any of the information that voters need to decide whether or not to support the proposed amendment. I am concerned that voters are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.” Schneider said he plans to vote in person against the amendment on Election Day.

Watland, who is voting by absentee ballot, added, ” I am opposed to this amendment because I do not think that it provides adequate protections for the criminally accused. I am concerned that other voters are being misled into thinking that it does.”

The ACLU’s complaint goes into lengthy detail about the numerous misstatements in the information being circulated to voters about the proposed amendment. The ACLU argues that these statements are factually incorrect and are liable to mislead the voters who are not familiar with the intricacies of criminal procedure.

Dwayne Yoshina, state chief elections officer, and Wendell Kimura, interim director of the state Legislative Reference Bureau, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

To read the complaint in this case go to /node/35082

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