Election Integrity Group Sues Hawaii Over Federal Voting Law

The group is suing Hawaii for refusing to hand over voter records; its leader says the state may also be violating a second federal law.
Election Integrity Group Sues Hawaii Over Federal Voting Law
Voters crowd the voting tables during the Hawaii caucus at Kailua Intermediary School in Kailua, Hawaii, on March 26, 2016. (Marco Garcia/AP Photo)
Matthew Vadum

An election integrity group is suing Hawaii for allegedly violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by refusing to hand over voter records.

The legal complaint (pdf) in Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) v. Nago (court file 1:23-cv-00389), was filed on Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii. Scott Nago is the chief elections officer for Hawaii.

“Unfortunately, some states like Hawaii conduct their elections in the shadows,” said J. Christian Adams, the president of PILF and a former civil rights attorney for the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“Federal law requires transparency, and voter rolls are an important list maintenance document the public can inspect," Mr. Adams, a sitting member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said.

"We have fought this fight and won it in court in three other states. We are confident that this lawsuit will bring transparency to Hawaii’s elections.”

Section 8 of the NVRA, also known as the "Motor Voter" law, requires states to keep voter registration records and make them available for public inspection.

"[Each state] shall maintain for at least two years and shall make available for public inspection and, where available, photocopying at a reasonable cost, all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters,” the law states.

This public disclosure provision is designed to “ensure that election officials are fulfilling their list maintenance duties” and is “available to any member of the public,” the legal complaint states, citing previous court precedents.

The provision “convey[s] Congress’s intention that the public should be monitoring the state of the voter rolls and the adequacy of election officials’ list maintenance programs. Accordingly, election officials must provide full public access to all records related to their list maintenance activities, including their voter rolls,” the complaint states.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group based in Virginia, asked Hawaii officials for a copy of the statewide voter roll in April, but officials denied the request. They cited a state law that doesn't allow access to the voter roll unless it's for an election-related or governmental purpose.

“We went out there to inspect some things we told them we were coming to look at, and they just said—astonishingly—the state doesn't keep a single record for the voter roll, which is contrary to the Help America Vote Act," Mr. Adams told The Epoch Times.

“And they certainly didn't give it to us. So that's why we're in court.”

'There's Never Been a Loss'

Mr. Adams said he was confident that his organization would win the lawsuit.

“We’ve won every single one of these cases around the country when we ask for documents, or we don't get them. So there's never been a loss. So there's been plenty of cases. ... this is probably like number 20, or 25.

“I suspect that if Hawaii doesn't in fact have a statewide database, you're going to be hearing from more than just the Public Interest Legal Foundation, they're probably going to be hearing from the Department of Justice also.

“There’s some questions in my mind how this escaped the DOJ because they also have enforcement power over this.

“I have a real question how it is that an entire state says they’re not complying with the Help America Vote Act, and, somehow, this was never a concern to the Justice Department.”

Previously, PILF went to court and won access to the voter rolls in Illinois, Maryland, and Maine. U.S. District Judge George Singal, who was appointed in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, ruled in the legal group’s favor in March, but Maine's Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

PILF uses records and data compiled through open records laws to analyze the programs and activities of state and local election officials in order to determine whether lawful efforts are being made to keep voter rolls current and accurate. The legal group also uses records and data to generate and disseminate reports, articles, blog and social media posts, and newsletters to advance the public education aspect of its organizational mission.

Mr. Nago prevailed over the Hawaii Republican Party in February, when an Oahu Circuit Court dismissed a complaint claiming that his office had violated election laws during the post-election ballot auditing process for the 2022 general election in which Democrats won most of the races, including the gubernatorial election.

The lawsuit, which had sought the completion of an election audit, was based on statements from witnesses and election observers who said that they saw election officials relying on digitized images of ballots in the vote count instead of the paper ballots that state law mandates. Election officials countered that Republicans lacked any hard evidence of wrongdoing and said that their claims were “pure speculation,” Courthouse News Service reported.

Mr. Nago’s office didn't respond by press time to a request for comment on the new lawsuit.