Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, who has sole authority over the Hawaii County Elections Division, failed once again to attend the State Elections Commission meeting on Oahu. The meeting was Tuesday morning, and all the other County Clerks (from Maui, Oahu, and Kaua’i) attended. Jeff Kuwada, the Maui County Clerk, said he and his Elections Administrator attended–as is standard for most Elections Commission meetings.
Keoki Kerr of Hawaii News Now said members of the State Elections Commission expressed frustration over County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi’s apparent lack of interest in getting training for herself and key staff after many problems on August 11, Primary Day. Those problems–ranging from late delivery of voting lists, lack of properly working telephones, and difficulty in reaching knowledgeable County elections employees. resulted in several polling places opening late and problems throughout the day Kawauchi has failed to attend any State Elections Commission meeting since May 30, when the Commissioners questioned her readiness to conduct elections after she told them she has “general knowledge of Hawaii State laws,” and acknowledged she had no training nor background in elections.
Commissioners appeared frustrated at Kawauchi’s apparent reluctance to accept help. Commissioner Zale Ozazaki said she didn’t understand…that Kawauchi is new…she has no training…but she apparently does not wish to accept help from the State Elections Office. Commissoner Danny Young said, “It seems like there’s one or two people not doing what they’re supposed to do, and there’s nothing we can do to make that person do the right job.”
Young questioned State Elections Chief Scott Nago on what legally they could do to compel Kawauchi to do what she has to do to operate a successful General Election. Nago said he and the other County Clerks have set up the workshops, they’ve all been to Hilo to try to assist, and they’ve offered help. But they cannot compel Kawauchi to accept the help. The Hawaii County Council is the only body with authority over Kawauchi. And they’re the only ones who can compel her to present any kind of plan for success on November 6, and the only ones who can compel her to accept help.
The County Clerks all agreed to take part in three elections workshops. However, Kawauchi declined to attend the first one, last week Monday on Kaua’i, and instead sent four subordinates–including Deputy County Clerk Steve Lopez, who said in August he knows little about elections and up until August 11, had never taken part in an election. Bernice Mau, Honolulu City Clerk, said Kawauchi is not reaching out to the clerks. But Nago and the other County Clerks expressed hope that Kawauchi will attend the remaining two workshops–and bring her staff.
Nago also said he’ll send Lori Tomczyk, an experienced elections supervisor, to Hawaii Island on November 6. She’ll run the counting center in Hilo. Tomzyk was in Hilo on Primary Day–and was able to step in and avert even more disasters.
Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters pointed out it’s less than 50 days to the elections. She testified as a followup to the League’s letter of Monday which urged the Hawaii County Council to require Kawauchi hire an experienced elections administrator, to attend all the trainings, and follow the law relative to media and independent observers being present on election days. Mason said a botched election in November could easily spread beyond Hawaii County. The League also asked the State Elections Commission to launch an independent investigation. But William Marston, the Chair, said doing it at this point would be too disruptive.
Both Hawaii News Now’s two stations and KITV 4 carried the Hawaii County Elections story as one of their top stories at both 5 and 6 on Tuesday.
The other County Clerks expressed concerns over the potential for problems on November 6. One reason: there continues to be no experienced Elections Administrator on Kawauchi’s staff, meaning Kawauchi is doing the job of not only County Clerk, but Elections Administrator.
Kawauchi did conduct debriefings of precinct officials on Hawaii Island last week, in the fifth week after the Primary. She asked them to tell her what went wrong on August 11. Attendees said she took copious notes. Some of her ideas for fixing the problem with lack of supply delivery included delivering the materials weeks in advance, but precinct officials said they could not store the materials in their homes and to deliver them to recreation centers and schools without any secure place to keep the materials would be impractical. Some officials wanted to know how to deal with “electioneering” close to a polling place, which is strictly forbidden by law. Kawauchi said because it’s a violation of law, the precinct officials should call 9-1-1. But some attendees expressed concern over that procedure, given that 9-1-1 is supposed to be reserved for true life-threatening emergencies. Maui County Clerk Jeff Kuwada said the procedure on Maui is to nicely ask the offender to move outside the clearly-defined election area perimeter. If they do not comply, the precinct officials call the control center on Maui, which then calls the police on the non-emergency number. But Kuwada said that is rare, that most people “campaigning” close to a polling place just move out of the forbidden zone when asked.
Thanks to Keoki Kerr of Hawaii News Now for his contributions to this story.