The Hawaii County Elections Department drama is continuing after weeks of problems, silence from the County’s Chief Elections Officer (the Hawaii County Clerk), and enough precincts opening late on Saturday for the Primary Election that the Governor issued a proclamation leaving all Hawaii County polling places open 90 minutes late. That delayed the release of results from all over the State.
State Elections Chief Scott Nago and all the County Clerks and their key staff people came to Hilo Tuesday to review the Primary election. Nago stressed, the State always does a post election review—that part wasn’t unusual. Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi was part of the review.
But so far, Kawauchi is still unable to answer the question of how many polling places opened late. She explained that during the week, she would be talking with the Chairs for each of the County’s 40 polling places to try to get the answer—and more importantly, why they opened late. In a meeting Tuesday night with members of the Kona Tea Party, she initially said she’d spoken with 35 of the 40 polling place Chairs, but upon further questioning, said she had spoken with 1. She said staffers had spoken with the others, but Kawauchi still had no answer as to how many polling places opened late. She has invited all the West Hawaii Precinct Chairs to a meeting today, Wednesday, at 5:30 at West Hawaii Civic Center.
Kawauchi acknowledged some bad decisions were made by some of her staff in deploying the voter lists, some of which arrived up to 90 minutes late. And she said many telephone lines weren’t working. She laid the blame for the problems mostly at the feet of those working out of West Hawaii Civic Center. But some of those working in the polling locations said their phones were working fine, but what they did not have were the correct phone number lists. One Precinct Chair said she’d faced challenges because usually, the Precinct Chairs get their worker lists well in advance–but she finally called County Elections Wednesday to ask that the list be sent. The Chairs generally contact their workers in advance and confirm details.
State Elections Spokesman Rex Quidilla said the State can’t wait any longer to get the information about what really happened Saturday, and is conducting its own investigation.
Kawauchi’s Tuesday evening sit-down with members of the Kona Tea Party at Boston Basil’s Restaurant was open to the public. She said she’s been trying to institute needed election office procedure changes, but cannot get concurrence from the State Elections Office.–even though Scott Nago says there have been no suggestions. She also said she knows her job is on the line because of the problems of the last several weeks, but told the Tea Partiers if she goes, the problems will still remain.
Some of the Tea Party members expressed concern that the State had not stepped in to take over and fix the problems. However, although Kawauchi did not explain this, the way the State Elections system is set up is that each County is autonomous. The State Office of Elections has no direct authority over any of the County Clerks, all of whom report to their respective County Councils. And most of the Hawaii County Council members were running for office, and chose not to ask questions nor step in prior to the election. That will change Monday when the Hawaii County Council holds a special meeting to address what went wrong during the Election and for the past several weeks. Up until the election, both Kawauchi and her direct boss, County Council Chair Dominic Yagong, went on the record several times to say that “all would be fine.”
Another issue raised by the Tea Party members was the issue of ballot and poll list security and possible ballot fraud. They asked Kawauchi to comment. Kawauchi said the drivers who transport the materials are all hired by the State, not by the County, so she did not have control over them. They discussed possible solutions such as having the police or other armed guards escort the ballots; Kawauchi said she would take that under consideration. What there was no discussion of were the measures already in place by the State to double check the voter lists against those who voted, and to double check the count. Kawauchi indicated several times there were no specific procedures in place for the State and County Elections Departments, and therefore, determining which entity had responsibility for what was a challenge.
Kawauchi asked the members of the Kona Tea Party to come Monday morning, August 20, to the Hawaii County Council meeting at 10a.m. and testify to help ensure she’ll still be in place for the November election. She said she appreciated having a dialogue with non government people about how government can work better and wished more County Department Directors would have similar conversations. She said she welcomed the Tea Party members’ suggestions on how to improve the elections process. She said if she’s removed from her job, nobody will be the advocate for the voice of change with the county or the state relative to the elections process.
She promised to try to provide a list of key issues and talking points for the Tea Party members to use in their testimony prior to Monday’s meeting.
**Update Wednesday, August 15, 7 p.m: Kawauchi met with Karin Stanton of www.hawaii247.com Wednesday evening just before 6 p.m. and told her she now can confirm that only 4 or 5 polling places opened late on Saturday morning. She identified the late-openers as Kona Vista, Kahakai School, Waikoloa, Kona Palisades, and possibly Hawaiian Paradise Park in Kea’au. Hawaii News Now’s Rick Daysog reported Wednesday that the State Office of Elections confirmed with him that they had personally contacted the Precinct Chiefs for all 40 Hawaii Island polling places and determined that 10 out of 40 had opened late, with the latest being around 90 minutes.