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Candidates complain about early ballot mailing

A couple of candidates running in Saturday’s primary election complained about mail-in ballots being sent out a week ahead of schedule, prompting them to scramble to reschedule the release of their advertising materials.

First-time County Council candidate Sne Patel said he and other new candidates have been “challenged” because ballots were mailed out about a week before the July 21 date announced by the state Office of Elections.

“We had to move up some of our media placements to adjust to this early drop,” Patel said Thursday.

He is facing off against Rick Nava and incumbent Tamara Paltin for the West Maui residency seat on the council. The top two finishers in Saturday’s election will advance to the general election.

South Maui state Rep. Tina Wildberger also complained about the problem with the early mailing of ballots and trying to reschedule advertisements and placements. She said she could not rearrange everything.

Wildberger alleged that some political candidates might have known about the earlier mailing, prompting those candidates to time their advertisements and mailers with the ballots. She said this gave those who knew of the mailing schedule an “unfair advantage.”

She did not name candidates who may have known of the earlier scheduled mailing.

Wildberger faces off against Don Couch, also a Democrat, in the primary for the District 11 seat. The winner will face Howard Greenberg of the Aloha Aina party in the general election.

On Thursday night, Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu said the ballot mailings were handled by the state Office of Elections on Oahu.

In addition to the early mailing, Patel said Thursday afternoon that a number of constituents have told him that they haven’t received their ballots and were not aware that they could still register to vote and cast ballots in-person at the three county voter service centers and the location of ballot drop-off boxes.

“I have seen information from the Office of Elections regarding this, but haven’t seen a tremendous amount of communication from the County Clerk’s Office regarding such services and locations,” he said.

Kaohu said that prior to COVID-19, the county Elections Division conducted in-person outreach and voter education events throughout the county, such as at club meetings and community gatherings.

But as the pandemic took hold, those outreach efforts could not happen. Radio and print ads were purchased and updates were provided during Maui County Council committee meetings, which are televised.

On May 15, a statewide proclamation was issued in newspapers throughout the state, identifying the important dates of the upcoming election. The Clerk’s Office has remained open to the public during the pandemic, she said.

“With all of that said, we recognize that improving our ability to educate the public on our elections will only benefit the community. As such, we are creating a social media presence for the upcoming general election with a Facebook page, an Instagram account and a Twitter account,” Kaohu said.

For assistance or information about voting, call 270-7749 or email County.Clerk @mauicounty.us.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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