The Hawaii League of Women Voters is asking the Hawaii County Council to step up to its responsibilities as the legislative branch of government in Hawaii County. They’re asking the County Council to make sure Hawaii County is ready for the November 6, 2012 General Election.
The Hawaii County Clerk, right now Jamae Kawauchi, is responsible for the Elections Division. But Kawauchi has no Elections Administrator–she fired longtime Administrator Pat Nakamoto in January and did not replace her with an alternate experienced administrator–and undertook to personally manage the Primary Election on August 11, despite acknowledging she has no background in running an election. Things did not go well–polls opened late, the precinct chairs could not get in touch with the Elections Office to resolve issues, voter lists were not delivered on time–and Kawauchi blamed her staff and the State Office of Elections in an August 20 report to the Hawaii County Council
The County Council has not asked Kawauchi, at least in public, for any path forward, any plan to ensure that the November 6 election will not have similar problems, nor has Kawauchi, at least in public, volunteered any such information. It was just last week that Kawauchi met with precinct officials from around the island to assess what the problems were…some five weeks after the Primary Election, and only seven weeks before the November 6 election.
Because the County Charter is quite clear that the Hawaii County Clerk reports to the County Council, the League’s State President, Beppie Shapiro, has delivered the letter asking the County Council to ensure that the County Clerk and her staff all go to workshops set up by the other County Clerks from the other islands specifically to train the Hawaii County team; to take responsibility for fully staffing the Elections Division; to assign undivided responsibility for the election to someone with experience in successfully managing elections; and to expect the Hawaii County Clerk to comply with relevant legislation. That includes the requirement in the law that media and independent observers be allowed to oversee the elections process (which did not happen on August 11; in fact Kawauchi told members of the press to meet her at 4 a.m. to get a review of the process and then she refused to meet with them and wouldn’t talk with the press all day, even as polls were opening late and the public needed to know what was going on).
Additionally, the League of Women Voters is recommending that the State Elections Commission, as required under HRS 11-8.5, conduct an investigation of the processes and actions that led up to the August 11 “mishaps” in the Hawaii County elections.
The League is a well-respected nonpartisan nationwide organization dedicated to registering voters, educating voters, improving elections, and improving government.
League of Women Voters Statement:
To ensure a smooth general election in Hawai‘i County and restore voter confidence, the Hawai`i State League of Women Voters recommends specific actions by the Hawai`i County Council and its Clerk, and an investigation by the State Elections Commission.
In a democracy, every vote matters: each vote is the choice of a unique individual about what kind of government s/he wants. Collecting and recording those votes gives meaning to democracy. Over the years, members of State and County Leagues of Women Voters throughout Hawai‘i have worked with many public officials who register voters and run elections. Members of the Hawai`i State League of Women Voters served on the 2002 Election Review Task Force, and in 2012 as in past elections our members have volunteered in polling places and the State Control and Counting Centers.
This year, we have been troubled by a number of serious issues on the island of Hawai‘i which cumulatively may have diminished voters’ confidence in the Hawai‘i County Elections Office.
We are concerned about an apparent lack of communication and transparency from the County Clerk with the press and public. Press conferences may have explained prior actions, but the time lag between actions and explanations fostered an air of mistrust. The State Elections Office complained about unreturned calls and emails to the County Elections Office. Staff terminations, unexpected leaves of absence, complaints of inadequate staffing, and miscommunications led to what one journalist called “chaos” on Primary Election Day. Hawai`i County and the State share responsibility for operation of elections on the Big Island.
According to state elections law (HRS 11-184), the County is responsible for voter registration, absentee ballots and operation of early voting locations; the State is responsible for hiring precinct officials for election day, monitoring election day operations, collection of walk-in ballots and tabulation of all ballots. Responsibility for some functions is not clearly specified in HRS 11. It is not clear that either jurisdiction has sufficient authority to resolve all the problems that surfaced in the Big Island primary election.
The Hawai‘i County Council met on August 20, and the Hawai‘i County Clerk provided her status report to the Council. The State Elections Commission also met on that day. There, the Chief Elections Officer provided his status report to the Commission. Members of the State League of Women Voters attended and presented comments at both meetings. Because of the media’s diligent reporting, the public learned that the County and State do not agree on the scope or causes of the election difficulties, or what can be done to prevent a recurrence.
With less than two months left until the general election, voters deserve a clear response to the primary day mishaps, one which restores faith in the conduct of elections in Hawai‘i County.
In a creative step toward such a response, State Chief Elections Officer Nago invited staff of the Hawaii County Office of Elections to a series of workshops provided by experienced elections staff in other counties. We applaud this positive strategy.
To ensure a smooth general election in Hawai‘i County, the Hawai`i State League of Women Voters:
1) Urges the Hawai`i County Council to ensure that all relevant Elections Office staff participate in the remaining workshops.
2) Urges the Hawaii County Council, in line with their responsibilities, to fully staff the Elections Division, and to assign undivided responsibility for County preparations for and conduct of the November voting process to someone with experience in successfully
3) Expects the County Clerk to comply with relevant legislation, including designating official political and press observers for the Big Island Counting Center, as required under HRS § 16-45. Public release of identities of observers would reassure the public
and media that the law is being implemented.
4) Recommends that the State Elections Commission, as required under HRS 11-8.5, conduct an investigation of the processes and actions that led up to the August 11 mishaps in Hawaii County, to apply to the November general election, prevent similar problems in future elections, and inform future efforts to clarify responsibilities among State and County Elections staff.
These steps would go a long way to restoring voter confidence.
The Big Island’s difficulties affect the entire state, not just that island, because the general election includes State and Federal candidates. The effects of a botched Hawai‘i County election in November could spread beyond the Big Island. Any questionable practices might generate candidate lawsuits, which are always costly to taxpayers. Hawai‘i could face intense scrutiny with plenty of people asking, “Why wasn’t the problem resolved?”
It’s not too late to prepare for smooth operation of the Big Island’s November election. Why risk a repeat of August’s problems, when something can be done about it?