Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi on Monday terminated the sole (temporary) employee who was staffing the County Elections Office at West Hawaii Civic Center. The office was left wide open and unattended by any Elections staff all Monday, but employees from other nearby offices were seen trying to help citizens with questions. At a press conference Monday evening, Kawauchi said she does expect to have somebody back in the office on Tuesday. She did not explain why the clerk was terminated, and said she would not answer personnel questions on the advice of Corporation Counsel, the attorneys for the County. She also said the clerk in Kona was not a county employee, but an employee of the Altres Staffing Agency and suggested calling Altres.
Kawauchi has changed the procedure for absentee ballots. There is a letter posted on the door of the Elections Office in Kona, and also on the door of the Early Walk In Voting office at West Hawaii Civic Center explaining how to handle absentee ballots. Up until yesterday, those with absentee ballots could turn them in at the Kona Elections office, where they were being accepted by the clerk who has now been removed. But now, Kawauchi says absentee ballots must be either taken in person to the Elections Office in Hilo, or mailed to arrive in Hilo by Saturday, or taken to a regular voting precinct on Saturday. She did not explain why she’s made this change.
She is not allowing the three early walk in voting locations on the island to accept absentee ballots. She said that although Hawaii laws (HRS 15-9-2) require that Absentee Ballots be accepted at “polling locations,” the early walk in voting locations are not technically considered “polling locations”.
Kawauchi also said so far, around 10,000 absentee ballots have been received in the mail or brought to the Hilo and Kona Elections offices, out of around 20,000 requested and mailed out (she said she was only able to supply approximate numbers). She acknowledged that some of the envelopes are unsigned but could not say how many. Signatures are required on the outside of the absentee ballot envelopes. She said those voters are given the option of coming to Hilo to sign their ballots; or voting early in Waimea, Kona, or Hilo; or voting at their “regular” precinct on Saturday. She did not say what would happen with any unsigned absentee ballots from those in “orphan” precincts, those without polling places, who now are automatically sent absentee ballots as they have no designated polling place.
Kawauchi said she expects to have around 40 people working Saturday, Primary Election Day, in the Hilo Elections Office. Around 10 of these are temporary employees. The rest are regular employees of the Elections Office or the County Council Services Office. She also said there are dozens of volunteers who will be working, plus paid precinct workers.