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DeCoite leads Ritte by 91 votes in latest tally, though recount pending

Lynn DeCoite

Rep. Lynn DeCoite staved off a strong challenge from activist Walter Ritte in a Democratic race for House District 13 in a contest, though both candidates were awaiting the results of a mandatory recount Monday before calling the race.

Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu pointed out that state law requires a recount of races with a margin “equal to or less than one hundred votes or one-quarter of one percent of the total number of votes cast for the contest, whichever is greater.”

In the fourth printout that was released at 11:38 a.m. Sunday, DeCoite had 3,243 votes, or 48.2 percent, to Ritte’s 3,152 or 46.9 percent — a 91 vote margin.

On his Facebook page, Ritte posted Sunday morning that “it was a long night and Molokai has spoken, congratulations to Lynn Decoite.” However, he told The Maui News later in the day that he wasn’t officially conceding yet, since the recount is pending.

DeCoite also wasn’t claiming victory just yet.

Walter Ritte with wife Lorretta at their home on Molokai on Saturday.

“I’m just standing by and waiting,” she told The Maui News Sunday. “No matter what happens, the people gotta decide, and the people gotta want you there.”

The two candidates from Molokai were running to represent their home island as well as East Maui and Lanai.

The race already proved tight after the first printout, with DeCoite ahead with 2,717 votes, or 48.4 percent, to Ritte’s 2,613 votes, or 46.5 percent. By the second printout, Ritte had cut DeCoite’s lead to 29 votes and a fraction of a percentage point — 2,760 votes, or 47.8 percent, to Ritte’s 2,731 votes, or 47.2 percent.

Ritte was counting on the ballots later in the night to see him through.

“Of course I was hoping that I would be in the lead, but the way we analyzing it, most of our supporters are all last minute-kind people,” he said after the first printout. “So we’re really, really hopeful.”

Ritte pointed out that it was going to take some time to deliver and count the ballots from his district of Hana, Molokai and Lanai. He said he was hoping for the same thing that happened to Maui County Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who was down by 1,000 votes late in the 2018 general election and pulled off the victory at the final printout.

Despite trailing DeCoite, Ritte said his campaign “did the best we could” in the face of the pandemic and limits on traveling between the three islands that District 13 represents.

“We didn’t know what the outcome was going to be because nobody knows (the effect) that the pandemic has on people,” he said. “You can be waving signs at them, but their mind is not on politics. Their mind is on how they’re going to feed their family, how they’re not going to get sick. So it’s really hard to break through.”

DeCoite and Ritte are both well known figures on Molokai with deep ties to the island. DeCoite is a third-generation farmer who runs a large-scale sweet potato farm in Hoolehua with her husband. In 2015, she was tapped to replace the late House Rep. Mele Carroll and successfully defended the seat in 2016 and 2018. While in the Legislature, DeCoite said she’s advocated for local farmers and believes Hawaii needs to be supportive of all agriculture, including conventional, on the road to greater food security.

Ritte gained prominence in the fight to stop the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Kahoolawe in the 1970s and once occupied the island for 35 days in protest with Richard Sawyer. He’s taken up many other causes in the years since, from seeking access rights to Molokai’s north shore to stopping development on the island’s west end and most recently, protesting the telescope atop Mauna Kea. He’s also been active in the fight against genetically modified crops and pesticides but said he too would be supportive of conventional, food-producing farmers if elected.

The winner of the Democratic primary will faces off against Republican Robin Vanderpool, who had 304 votes, or 38.3 percent, with 488 blank votes, or 61.5 percent and two over votes as of the fourth printout, as well as Aloha Aina candidate Theresa Kapaku, who collected 83 votes, or 79 percent, with 22 blank votes, or 21 percent.

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