Before the Hawaii County Council meeting on Monday to review Hawaii County’s performance on Primary Election Day, Council member Pete Hoffman said it was important to remember that the purpose of the meeting would be to restore voter confidence. Only the voters can say for sure if it did. Hoffman said the confidence is likely not back yet, as Monday’s meeting did not result in a plan to move forward and fix problems before the next election.
There was only one agenda item, which was getting a report from County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi about the Elections Office performance before and on Primary Day. Kawauchi released the report at 6:32 a.m. and then read it to the Council at the start of the 10 a.m. meeting.
The Hawaii County Elections Office had been the center of controversy for weeks, with the question being, was the office ready to efficiently and effectively handle the Primary Election. Kawauchi repeatedly said everything was fine. As it turned out, there were some failures, with three polling locations opening around 90 minutes late, and up to 10 others opening somewhat late. Kawauchi acknowledged the failures, and said she was outraged. She laid the blame squarely at the feet of the State Elections Office, inexperienced employees, a Deputy County Clerk who did not pay attention to detail, late deliveries of supplies, and telephone and equipment failures.
In an interesting move, timing-wise, Kawauchi called a press conference while the meeting was going on, asking the media to leave the public testimony portion of the Council meeting—for which she was serving as County Clerk—and meet her in a separate room. One of the questions raised by the media was Kawauchi’s accusation that the State Elections personnel took the County’s election records without her knowledge nor permission. But State Elections Chief Scott Nago said he took those records on Tuesday, August 14, after meeting with Kawuchi and all the County Clerks in Hilo—and did so with Kawauchi’s knowledge and permission. She said in the press conference she did not recall that.
Several people testified at the meeting, ranging from the head of Hawaii Island’s League of Voters who lamented the loss of voter confidence and pleaded with the County Council to take steps to have a good General Election to precinct officials who were dismayed at the problems to a Kona Tea Party member who accused the State Elections Chief of bullying Kawauchi. Each of the County Council members also questioned Kawauchi. And Deputy County Clerk Steve Lopez, who stressed he was testifying as a private citizen as Kawauchi had forbidden him from talking with the media, disputed Kawauchi’s allegations about his performance and acknowledged he had no background in elections and had received little training for the job, and acted completely at the direction of the County Clerk.
The final testifier was longtime Elections Administrator Ed Kozahara, who had retired in 2000. He said there is no problem with the elections process and protocol, as evidenced by the other counties, which had elections that ran smoothly. He said it’s clear that Kawauchi is inexperienced, but also clear that she had no experienced elections personnel to do the day-to-day work. He advised the County Council to not involve themselves in the County Elections Office matters, as they did not have the knowledge to delve into the day-to-day operations. And he advised Kawauchi to get help, and fast.
The end result? Kawauchi called for an “investigation”, with an investigator to be determined at a later time, but Council members said they’d like less of a backwards look and more of a forwards look. Council member Brenda Ford praised Kawauchi for her efforts in sending out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, now that the State has implemented Permanent Absentee Ballot status. Council member Dennis “Fresh” Onishi said any decision on the future rests in the hands of Council Chair Dominic Yagong, as it is Yagong who appoints the County Clerk.
Yagong said he’d like to hold a joint meeting to work out the issues with the State Attorney General, the Lieutenant Governor, the County Clerk, and the State Elections Office as a way to determine how best to go forward. Yagong said Monday night he spoke with Lt. Governor Brian Schatz after the County Council meeting and that the Lt. Governor will work through the Governor’s office to determine how best to proceed to assist Yagong in getting the parties together to work out the issues and ensure a smooth-running election in November.
After 4 ½ hours, the County Council voted to accept Kawauchi’s report. Any further action, if any, must be taken up at a future County Council meeting.
Read Kawauchi’s report below:
TO: Dominic Yagong, Chairperson
And Council Members of the Hawai‘i County Council
FROM: Jamae K. K. Kawauchi, Hawai‘i County Clerk
DATE: June 4, 2012; correction: 8/20/12
SUBJECT: Primary Election Day Report
In the weeks leading up to the Primary Election, as your County Clerk and Chief Election Officer of the County of Hawai‘i, I stated publicly that the public is the priority and that I would do everything that I could to ensure a fair and well-run election. I also stated publicly that every vote counts. This message to Hawaii County voters and taxpayers was deeply heartfelt and sincere. Through my interactions with voters and taxpayers in the weeks preceding the election, I began to see a positive difference in the public and their perception of government and their election experience. The deep sense of commitment to community that Hawai‘i island voters have communicated to me and the elections division staff encouraged all of us to work hard and to do as good of job as we could in running the elections.
On August 11, 2012, Hawai‘i County, with the State Office of Elections, conducted elections and election day operations including the processing of absentee ballots, the security and delivery and collection of ballots, and the dissemination of election results in accordance with the law. Although I did my best to ensure that Hawai‘i County would have a fair and well-run election, as has been reported by news media, the day did not go as planned. Numerous Election Day irregularities occurred including late delivery of election materials to precincts and failed communications and equipment problems. These problems caused the very late opening of polling places most significantly in West Hawai‘i, and resulted in the Governor’s August 11, 2012 Election Proclamation calling for polling places to stay open until 7:30 p.m.
I am deeply concerned about the Election Day irregularities on Hawai‘i island during the Primary Election. The late opening of polling places on Hawai‘i island is completely unacceptable. As the chief elections officer for the County of Hawai‘i no one can be more concerned than I am about the problems that occurred on Election Day. I began investigating the election irregularities mid-day on August 12, 2012, the day after the election and I am continuing to investigate the Election Day irregularities. I have been harshly criticized by the State of Hawai‘i Chief Elections Officer for not releasing information earlier but my review has been hampered by the removal of election records from the County of Hawai‘i by the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections without my permission and consent and without prior notice. To date, the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections has not provided me with a copy of the election records that they removed. This action on behalf of the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections is deeply disturbing and does little to provide me with confidence that the State Office of Elections can work in partnership with the County of Hawai‘i.
My concerns regarding the State Office of elections and election day activities date back to September 2011 when I expressed my strong concerns to the State of Hawai‘i Elections Commission about the performance of the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections in the following categories:
1. Planning, organization, scheduling, assigning and directing the work of elections personnel.
2. Communication with staff.
3. Acceptance of suggestions for improvement.
4. Listening to input from staff, volunteers, and community.
5. Conduct of the elections and Election Day operations including the processing of absentee ballots, the security and delivery and collection of ballots, and the dissemination of election results in accordance with the law.
6. Working with county clerks and other interested persons to formulate proposed election related legislation each session.
It is my sense that although the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections has taken no responsibility for the serious mishaps that occurred on Primary Election day, the problems with election related irregularities on election day do in fact relate back to the significant issues that I identified about the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections that I transmitted to the State Office of Elections in September 2011. This is why I have written a letter to the Honorable Governor Neil S. Abercrombie, requesting an independent review of the performance of the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections and also to ask that he please consider the Lt. Governor of the State of Hawai‘i oversee the administration of the State of Hawai‘i Office of Elections for the upcoming general election in November 2012.
Without the election record books, it has been difficult for me to determine the exact opening time of polling places on Hawai‘i island. At mid-day on August 12, 2012, the first action that I took to look into the election day irregularities was to perform a review of the precinct cans, supply boxes and other election related materials that were returned to the Hawai‘i County building following the election. I noticed that the record books were missing. The record books are used to record the events of the day at each precinct, including the opening time of the precinct. As the record books were missing, I was unable to verify the opening times of each precinct by book.
Note that when the polls open, the chairperson and voter assistance official are to call control center as soon as the polling place opens. As noted above, Hawai‘i county communications failed the morning of August 11, 2012. It was planned that the precincts were to use landlines and mobile telephones to contact control center. At least one week prior to Election Day I was informed and I observed Hawai‘i County election staff program the mobile telephones and I saw that they were being packed for delivery to precincts. I was informed that the landlines were to be tested at each location and each location with landline capability was to receive a landline at least one week prior to Election Day. I spoke to the staff person who was in charge of this matter at least one week prior to Election Day to make sure that this matter was addressed prior to Election Day. Despite the phones being programmed and packed, the preparation and planning for our communications had failed that morning. The landlines did not work properly at most precincts and the mobile phones were not properly programmed. Although I quickly provided each control center operator with back up personal telephone numbers to use to establish communication with each precinct, communication was not established quickly enough to be able to accurately record the time of opening with control center and we were unable to obtain the exact time of the opening of the polling places on Hawai‘i island. I was able to determine by telephone contact by election division staff with precinct officials that at least four (4) precincts were severely impacted by delayed delivery of materials, with openings in some locations occurring after 8:30 a.m.
I understood that morning that an election related disaster had occurred related to unforeseen technical and operational problems, including equipment malfunction and the untimely delivery of supplies to polling places, and that given the situation, “doing what was right ” on Election Day meant that polling places would stay open past 6:00 p.m. The Honorable Neil S. Abercrombie, pursuant to State of Hawai‘i emergency powers, and in order to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process and the rights of the electorate to participate in the 2012 primary election, issued his Election Proclamation on August 11, 2012 thereby ordering Hawai‘i County polling places to stay open until 7:30 p.m.
The severely late opening of polling places presented an Election Day crisis that this State had never previously experienced. Certainly, no leader in a time of crisis looks forward to addressing problems and concerns of this magnitude. The affect that the late opening of polling places had on any single Hawai‘i island voter was of tremendous concern to me. As stated above, as the chief election officer of the County of Hawai‘i, no one can be more concerned than I am about the problems that occurred on Election Day. The concern of parents for their children voting for the first time, or elderly voters who had specific timeframes within which to vote, or anyone who believes in democracy and the importance of participation in government, will understand the feeling of regret, sorrow and sadness that I felt that morning and continue to feel to this day. It has been of the utmost importance to me to look in to the cause of the delayed openings of precincts on Election Day. I have tried to work as quickly as possible to complete my research, but as stated above, election related materials have been removed from my offices and that has made it difficult for me to determine the cause of the delayed openings. This has forced me to take on a much longer and harder process to look into the cause of the delayed openings via document review, telephone calls and meetings with precinct officials.
Without the voting records, this week, the elections division staff and I have contacted precinct chairpersons and voter assistance officials to determine the exact opening time of each precinct. Our telephone calls and individual meetings identified five (5) locations on island that opened their polling places at or after 7:10 a.m. on Election Day, with the most severely impacted polling places opening at or after 8:30 a.m. Mr. Nago’s report that he released on August 16, 2012 identified thirteen (13) polling places on island that opened their polling places at or after 7:01 a.m. The attached table, identified as Table One, indicates the comparisons of late opening precincts.
From my research this week, I can provide you with what I understand caused the late opening of polling places on Hawai‘i island. There are four (4) main categories. First, the delayed delivery of equipment and supplies to polling places. Second, voting equipment malfunction. Third, failed communications with control center to establish the programming code for voting equipment. Fourth, missing voter related information such as voting equipment pass code information that should have been packed into the precinct cans and were not.
Regarding the delayed deliver of equipment and supplies to polling places, the most affected locations were the following precincts:
06-05 Kona Palisades Community Center – Delayed Opening 8:45 a.m.
05-08 Kona Vistas Recreational Center – Delayed Opening 8:40 a.m.
06-02 Kahakai Elementary School – Delayed Opening 8:40 a.m.
07-02 Waikoloa Elementary School – Delayed Opening 7:45 a.m.
The genesis of the delay in the opening of these precincts was the failed delivery of election related materials for the Waikoloa Elementary School precinct to the Waimea Police Station on August 10, 2012. Election related materials were scheduled for deployment from four (4) locations on Hawai‘i island the morning of August 11, 2012. These locations were the Hawai‘i County building in Hilo, the Waimea Police Station in Waimea, the Naalehu Police Station in Naalehu and the West Hawai‘i Civic Center in Kealakehe. Deployment was scheduled for 4:00 a.m. on Election Day.
I note that the deployment of materials the morning of August 11, 2012 from Hilo, Waimea and Naalehu went out on time. However, a critical error had been made and not discovered until the early morning of August 11, 2012, which was the mistaken delivery by the warehouse staff of equipment and supplies for the Waikoloa precinct, 07-02, to the West Hawai‘i Civic Center on August 10, 2012, and not the Waimea Police Station as originally planned. I had checked with the staff in charge of the delivery to the Waimea Police Station and I was told on August 10, 2012 that it was confirmed that all of the items were delivered per the plan. I did not find out about this mistake until approximately 5:00 a.m. on August 11, 2012.
On August 11, 2012 at approximately 5:00 a.m., I was contacted by the courier bus services that they had been standing by for an hour and that nothing was happening. I contacted the Deputy County Clerk to check on the status of the start of the deployment from the West Hawai‘i Civic Center. It came to my attention that the courier buses that we scheduled to handle the deployment had not been loaded on schedule that morning. They were to be loaded by 4:30 a.m. but they had not yet been loaded by that time. I spoke with the Deputy County Clerk who indicated that he did not establish contact with the courier buses. I directed him to the buses and they began to load and board the materials.
At approximately 5:30 a.m. I was informed by the Deputy County Clerk that the Waikoloa precinct materials and supplies had been delivered to the West Hawai‘i Civic Center and not the Waimea Police Station as planned. I requested that the Deputy County Clerk drive the Waikoloa precinct materials and supplies to Waikoloa as soon as possible.
Between 6:00 – 6:30 a.m. I was informed by control center staff that there were several precincts in West Hawai‘i that had not received their precinct supplies, in particular their poll books. I made contact with the Deputy County Clerk again and learned that the poll books had not been picked up by the delivery and collection teams for precincts 06-05 Kona Palisades Community Center, 05-08 Kona Vistas Recreational Center and 06-02 Kahakai Elementary School. I also learned that he had collected the poll books and loaded them into his car and that he was driving to Waikoloa. I asked that the Deputy County Clerk drive to these precincts to deliver the cans first but he had already driven ½ way to Waikoloa and he said it was too late to turn back. If the delivery and collection team took all of the cans to all of the polling places then the delay would have been isolated to Waikoloa. However this did not happen.
Sadly I knew at that time that we would have severely delayed openings but there was nothing that I could do to get the books to the precincts except by relaying the materials to the sites by the Deputy County Clerk.
As stated above, I and the elections division staff share exactly the same concerns regarding these Election Day problems as the voters do. The delayed opening of the precincts is a travesty. The need to determine why the polling places did not open on time is directly related to understanding how to keep this problem from occurring again. It has been said that having more election experience would have helped keep this problem from occurring. However in this situation, how could experience have helped? There was a plan in place to deliver items to precinct locations, on time and on schedule. But if election related supplies and materials are left behind, what more can a person do than try to get the election materials to their intended locations? While I do believe that the election irregularities must be further investigated, the simple truth of what went wrong that caused the election delays appears to be rooted in accident and mistake. Not having more experience did not lead the Deputy County Clerk to ensure that no election materials were left behind. What went wrong does not have to do with poor planning, or leadership. What went wrong has to do with staff not paying attention to ensuring that election materials are completely removed from the deployment location. Therefore this is not a matter where more experience would have made a difference. The difference would have occurred if the Deputy County Clerk paid more attention to detail.
I was outraged that the materials were left behind and I can understand why people are extremely concerned with the delayed openings. Polling places opening 1.5 hours late is totally unacceptable. I can assure the public that this mistake will not happen again.
For the remainder of the precincts, the cause of their late opening was caused by voting equipment malfunction, failed communications with control center to establish the programming code for voting equipment and missing voter related information such as voting equipment pass code information that should have been packed into the precinct cans and were not. As stated previously, I am passionate about elections and voting. I am working hard to make sure that I understand the cause of these delayed openings. What happened absolutely thwarted the elections process and I want to know why these problems occurred. The reasons for the delays should be addressed by an investigator who can determine how Election Day problems occurred, how widespread the problems may have been, particularly the widespread communications failures and the widespread missing documentation that should have been included in the precinct cans and were not.
Regarding the missing documentation, said documentation should be included in the precinct cans a few weeks prior to the election. I spoke with the staff person in charge of having the documentation in the precinct cans several weeks prior to the election and he confirmed that all items had been received and were packed in the cans. How it is then that the forms did not make it into the precinct cans is not known to me and an investigator should come in and determine the cause.
I am committed to finding out the reasons for the delayed openings on Hawai‘i island. My concern is for the voters and taxpayers of this county. I have no other concern, no other agenda no other allegiances for any other cause except to do what is right for the voters. I am already committed to the Hawai‘i island voters and to attack my integrity and commitment to the elections process is to divert attention and to avoid getting to the bottom of the problem and it cannot be allowed to continue because to attack me personally does not do anything to find solutions to these problems or to better serve voters and taxpayers. Further, it is my job to make sure that I understand the cause of the Election Day problems and to come up with solutions for the general election. But Mr. Nago took my source for data away. Further, he has publicly stated that he has spoken to precinct officials but he has not provided me with any copies of any reports. This is pretty appalling. I do not understand how one could think that such an act does any good for the State and County of Hawai‘i.
My review of voting on Election Day has also included general information related to voting. Voter turnout for Hawai‘i island ranged from 39.5% to 42.7% over the last four (4) elections. 42.6% turnout this year is in the top of the range, and voter turn out is 3.2% more than in 2010. Absentee ballots cast with walk-in and mail-in voting have increased from 16079 to 23101 or 7022 votes which is 17.9% of the ballots cast. Scott Nago’s report shows thirteen (13) precincts with late start times, six (6) late by twenty-nine (29) minutes or more.
My research shows five (5) precincts with late times. Four (4) precincts were late by forty-five (45) minutes or more. One (1) precinct late by fifteen (15) minutes or more. After completing a second round of telephone calls to precinct officials it was determined that two (2) more precincts should be added with late openings. The combined reports show fourteen (14) precincts with late opening times. Six (6) late by twenty-nine (29) minutes or more.
In general, the precinct with a delayed opening that had a significant difference in its voter experience by election year was precinct 05-07. Konawaena voters at the polls dropped to ten ½ percent (10.5%) or a -17.6% change. Per communication with precinct officials, all materials were delivered by 5:40 a.m., and the exact cause of their delay is unknown at this time. Further research is necessary to determine the cause of the delay and to make changes to solve the delayed opening. Further research would also be necessary to understand what caused voter turnout to change this year from previous years.
The next precinct with delayed opening that had a significant difference in its voter experience by election year was precinct 02-02. Voters at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium dropped to 14.4% or a -13.7% change. The exact cause of their delay is unknown at this time. Further research is necessary to determine the cause of the delay and to make changes to solve the delayed opening. Further research would also be necessary to understand what caused voter turnout to change this year from previous years. Note that the drop at 02-02 occurred with only a five (5) minute delay, which is not deemed to be significant. Some precincts had substantial drops for election day voting but likely this reflects and increase in absentee voting.
The third precinct with delayed opening that had a significant difference in its voter experience by election year was 05-08, Kona Vistas. Voters at Kona Vistas dropped to 17.4% or a -5.2% change. The exact cause of their delay was the delayed delivery of the poll books. To address this problem, the poll books can be delivered one (1) week ahead. This may be done for all precincts to make sure that the delayed deliveries will not happen again. Further research would also be necessary to understand what caused voter turnout to change this year from previous years.
An overall assessment of the precinct comparison shows that for the six (6) precincts that “ostensibly” had a thirty (30) minute delay or more, the comparison of 2012 and 2010 % turnout by precinct closely matches the 2012 County average. Hence, no significant impact was made on the turn out, due to late opening.
A further election delay matter requires investigation. I am informed by a precinct official that a caller made contact with a delivery driver and informed them that there was a road closure, which then lead them to change their route resulting in a delay. This information also needs to be investigated.
Going forward, I will be continuing to work with precinct officials to find out what happened at their precincts and how to make things better. This is a good use of energy and I need to focus on this to get us ready for the general election.
I agree that voter confidence could be shaken. However in the three (3) precincts with the most significant delays, the turn-out percentages are within an expected range compared with the previous three elections. Therefore in spite of the late closings, the data shows that the turn out percentages and actual results were within a reasonable range.