County election office’s mistake sends voters scrambling: Clerical error tells voters their ballots were received before they were sent

  • A status report on the Hawaii County Elections Office website on Thursday as submitted to the newspaper by a voter

  • Jon Henricks

Erroneous text messages Thursday afternoon confused and alarmed some Big Island voters who were told their ballot had been “received, validated and accepted for counting,” even though many had not even received their mailed ballot when the notice went out.

Other voters reported to West Hawaii Today that Hawaii County’s online ballot tracker told them they had voted at a voter service center, although those facilities don’t open until Tuesday.

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“I was checking the voter website today and was surprised to see that it says I had already voted even though I have not even opened my mail-in ballot that arrived this afternoon in the mail,” a voter told the newspaper. “There appears to be a problem needing investigation and answers if confidence in this new system is to be maintained.”

Hawaii County Clerk Jon Henricks said the website error and any other issues were all corrected by 5:30 a.m. Friday. On Friday morning, the site showed 111,402 ballots had been issued and 28 ballots received.

Henricks said the inaccurate text message was sent to 2,379 voters.

“To be clear, the cause of the incorrect notification was due to an inaccurate data entry by the county,” Henricks said. “The ballot notification system was not compromised or hacked.”

The error comes at a time of heightened tensions nationwide and in Hawaii surrounding the voting process, brought about primarily by false allegations of elections impropriety during former President Donald Trump’s failed 2020 attempt to win re-election.

Henricks said the county is working with the vendor to help ensure that particular error won’t happen again. He declined to say if there would be discipline or further training for the staff who made the error, citing personnel confidentiality.

“We regret the confusion that this messaging caused, and ask those who have signed on for ballot notifications or those who are thinking about doing so to trust that future messaging will be accurate and timely for each voter,” Henricks said. “We can also assure voters that this isolated incident had absolutely no effect on the validity of the ballots, voter registration status, or ability to vote in the 2022 General Election for those who have signed on for ballot notifications.”

The state earlier this year struck a contract with Denver-based BallotTrax, a division of i3logix Inc., which the counties administer through their elections offices. Nedielyn Bueno, voter services specialist at the state Office of Elections, said the problem was limited to Hawaii County, and the state worked with the county and the vendor to get a correction out promptly to those receiving the erroneous message.

“We immediately contacted our vendor,” Bueno said Friday. “It was very important that we got a message out quickly.”

The 3:50 p.m. text message from the county Elections Division also thanked the voter for voting and provided a link to a “HI voted” digital sticker.

It was followed by a 4:44 p.m. message stating, “The ‘Ballot Accepted’ notice was sent in error. Ballots are still being mailed and you will receive an update when your status changes.”

Some voters who contacted the newspaper Thursday evening were quite upset, but a few had calmed down by Friday morning and asked that their previous comments not be used.

“I don’t think we should be beating up on the elections office at a time like this, or causing negativity surrounding the election process. My opinion is someone made a mistake, they retracted and apologized, let’s move forward. The less drama about it, the better, but that’s just my opinion,” said Nancy Carr Smith in an email.

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