Can non-citizens vote? Elections officials rely on affidavits to verify citizenship

  • Scott Nago
  • Pat Nakamoto

HILO — In a state that values access to the ballot, Hawaii election officials pretty much take your word for it when you claim to be a U.S. citizen and thus are eligible to vote.

But, at least on the Big Island, officials are confident there’s little, if any, incorrect or fraudulent representations that would allow non-citizens to cast ballots.


“It’s the first question on the form — “Are you a citizen of the United States of America,” notes Hawaii County Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto, pointing to the voter registration application.

But that didn’t stop a now-disqualified state House candidate on another island, who has apparently been on the voter rolls for more than a decade. Sailau Timoteo, who was running as a Republican for a windward Oahu seat, has been disqualified from the ballot after an objection was raised by a conservative activist.

“As Sailau Timoteo was not a United States Citizen at the time of presenting her nomination paper to be filed, the nomination paper is deemed to be incomplete and void because it does not contain all of the certifications and requirements of the law to be a candidate for State Representative,” state Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said in a proclamation Friday.

Timoteo did not respond to attempts to reach her by telephone or email by press-time Friday.

But in a statement published Friday in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Timoteo was quoted as saying, “I never knew my ethnicity as an American from American Samoa gave me second-class status and denied me rights that so many Americans take for granted on a daily basis.”

The registration form requires a signature under the words, “Warning: Any person who knowingly furnishes false information may be guilty of a Class C felony. I hereby swear (or affirm) that all information furnished on this application is true and correct.”

Nakamoto, who’s been an election official more than 30 years, said would-be voters used to have to appear before an official registrar, or someone deputized by an official registrar, in order to register to vote. That process was changed over the years to make the ballot more accessible to voters.

These days, people can register by mail, in person, online, while getting their driver’s license or even at the polls right before casting their votes. The forms ask for a valid Hawaii state identification and social security number, but other documents can be substituted.

There’s no central database of U.S. citizens to compare the applications to, however. Nor is there much government vetting of a candidate’s or voter’s eligibility.

“You sign and affirm that you are providing true and accurate information under penalty of law,” said Rex Quidilla, a former longtime state election official who’s now elections administrator for the City and County of Honolulu. “The whole idea is to provide accessibly to those eligible to vote.”

State Elections Office spokeswoman Nedielyn Bueno agrees the law is clear.

“The applicants that are signing up see that any information they provide is subject to a Class C felony,” she said.

Bueno said county elections offices are empowered to require further information from applicants to verify their eligibility. And, she added, any member of the public has a right to question a candidate’s or voter’s eligibility.

Nakamoto said registration applications coming in to her office are audited by elections staff.

“For every application, staff audits every form to see if it meets the qualifications and has been completed properly,” Nakamoto said.

The Big Island’s voter registration database came under scrutiny in 2012, when former County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi raised the alarm that several Hawaii County voters voted twice in the 2010 elections and some people were registered more than once. Kawauchi contacted the state Elections Office and the Department of the Attorney General about her concerns. They were ultimately deemed unfounded and attributed to her inexperience in the office and no action was taken.

The voter registration list is not compiled from scratch each election; rather, it is added to and purged as people join the rolls, die, move away or commit felonies. Each county controls its own voter rolls.

The right to vote in U.S. elections has become a sticking point for American Samoans. A group of American Samoa residents living in Utah filed a lawsuit in March petitioning to gain U.S. citizenship, according to The Associated Press.


In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reconsider a ruling from a lower court preserving American Samoa’s status as the only U.S. territory without automatic claim to citizenship, the AP report said.

In 2010, there were 18,287 people in Hawaii who reported to the U.S. Census Bureau that they were of sole Samoan ethnicity, and 37,463 said they were solely or partially Samoan, according to data reported by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. It’s unknown how many are U.S. citizens.

  1. naeporue August 6, 2018 9:19 am

    Non-citizens should be able to vote for local elections, as is usual in more civilized countries.

    1. CongressWorksForUs August 6, 2018 11:44 am

      For the record, the vast majority of countries, including “civilized countries” do NOT permit what you just said…

      1. naeporue August 6, 2018 12:45 pm

        See wikipedia Right of foreigners to vote.

    2. Buds4All August 6, 2018 4:55 pm

      Your kidding me right? Where did you read that? Most countries like Mexico for an example if you overstay your visa your fined and go to jail. You have no idea what is really going on it the world. We are the only fools that allow non-citizens to take away from its own people through medical, educational and financial benefits. And you think this is right while we can not even take care of our own citizens1

      1. naeporue August 6, 2018 5:04 pm

        See e.g. Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, parts of Switzerland.

        1. Buds4All August 6, 2018 5:24 pm

          At tax rates of 60%+ you want less in your pay check? These countries are really non-factor countries with small populations in comparison. But those are good Socialist talking points.

        2. ClutchCargo August 6, 2018 5:44 pm

          We are not euro-liberal socialists, we made sure of the over 200 years ago. Don’t like it? Go back to your home country, you are not American anyway.

  2. CongressWorksForUs August 6, 2018 11:48 am

    What I find hilarious about this article and others like it is that Democrats are keen to make us think there is no voter fraud and hence no reason for voter IDs, but then get all worked up over Russia allegedly meddling in our elections.

    Do these people really think that Russians living in the USA would care two hoots about “may be guilty of a Class C felony” if they’re under orders from their masters to vote and influence the elections to their favored candidates?

    Or people from any other country for that matter… like China… or Mexico… or Iran.

    But, there’s no voter fraud because people are…. honest.

  3. Buds4All August 6, 2018 4:50 pm

    “The whole idea is to provide accessibly to those eligible to vote.”….to allow the left illegal base the right to sway the vote to keep the old regime in power to give everything away to non-deserving people. How many people have they ever prosecuted for this violation? I bet you could count it with your third leg! There should be a law that randomly verifies 10% of all voter applications so we could get a real idea of what is going on in this country! Not just in HI but all states.

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