State Elections Chief Scott Nago has informed Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi that the State of Hawaii is rescinding any delegation of state responsibilities to the County of Hawaii for the 2012 General Election. Nago issued the letter on Wednesday, October 2.
In the five-page letter, Nago says the impact of the decision is tha the State will be taking a far greater role in the 2012 General Election than they normally do. Usually, because of the geographic limitations of our island state, the State Elections has the Counties manage their part of the elections, pursuant to State Law (HRS 11-2(a).
Nago’s letter says a successful election requires the State and the counties to work together for the common good of the electorate. Nago also asks for the County Clerk’s assistance in ensuirng a seamless transfer of responsibilities. He says the change will allow Hawaii County Elections to focus its energies and resources exclusively on solely County responsibilities of voter registration and absentee voting.
What the State wants:
-the return of all precinct cans, supply boxes, and the contents that are packed into said precinct cans and supply boxes. This would include, among other things, cell phones. The Office of Elections will pack the precinct cans and supply boxes for delivery. The Office of Elections will also handle delivery and collection teams and the associated delivery and retrieval of these items from the polling places.
-any voting booths in the County’s possession. The State will deliver the booths to the polling places.
-a list of individuals or groups the County Clerk’s office has contacted to serve as precinct officials, control center workers, or trouble shooters. The State plans to recruit personnel as needed to adequately staff the polling places and do the control center and trouble shooting work. They will also conduct the training.
-a return of all the training equipment, to include state-supplied laptops, projectors, microphones, speaker, poster boards, sample supply box, sample precinct can, and video conference monitor
The State will house the control center in the State Office Building in Hilo, not in the County Office Building. they also ask for all the control center equipment and material to be returned. The control center is where all the precinct officials call for support and information on election day. The State will also dispatch trouble shooters to polling places.
The State says they expect the County to transfer all election day calls regarding operation of the polling places to the State.
The Counting Center, which is a State operation that heretofore has been on County property, will now also be at the State Office Building. Nago’s letter instructs the Hawaii County Clerk to deliver all the absentee ballots to the new Counting Center.
The County Office of Elections has been plagued with problems since Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi assumed responsibility for the job in December, 2010. Most recently, Kawauchi announced last week to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that she had decided to deliver the election day materials to precinct officials this week, some four to five weeks prior to the election. Several prrecinct officials said they were against such a move, as the polling places are oftentimes public locations that may or may not be open to the public, and it wasn’t clear to them whether Kawauchi planned to deliver them to individuals’ homes, or their work place, or where.
Neither Nago nor State Elections Office spokesman Rex Quidilla was available at the moment of this writing to provide more detail about the reasons behind the unprecedented change nor the timing of the announcement. However, to this date, neither Kawauchi nor the Hawaii County Council, the sole authority over the County Clerk, has addressed how they would move forward to fix problems that occurred on Primary Day, August 11, when several polling places in the County opened late–three of them 90 minutes late. Numerous voters were turned away. Kawauchi blamed the problems on supply issues, improperly packed supply cans, phones that were theoretically programmed by her and her staff and then either didn’t go to the correct number or went to elections office numbers that weren’t being answered…among other things. Kawauchi laid the blame at the feet of Deputy Clerk Steve Lopez, who testified before the County Council on August 20 that he had no elections experience at all, and others on her staff.