In an unprecedented move, the State’s Chief Election Officer has weighed in on controversy surrounding the Hawaii County Elections office.
Scott Nago, Chief Elections Officer for the State, sent a letter to Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi Wednesday afternoon. He said his office has been fielding calls as to what is going on in Hawaii County. He said Kawauchi’s decision to close the elections office on July 23 and her failure to thoroughly communicate to the other election offices and the media as to the reasons for the closure has unnecessarily lead to significant speculation in the public about the integrity of the elections. He went on to say, “This is simply unacceptable on the part of a fellow election administrator. The public relies on us to be assured that their elections are safe and secure.”
Nago’s letter goes on, “The lack of communication of your office in the last few days has seriously undermined the hard work that the election community does to build the trust of the public in the integrity of the electoral system.” He says a written request sent by the State Elections Office to Kawauchi on July 23 asking for information has gone unanswered.
Nago had said previously in an interview that he was not getting phone calls back from the Elections Office, just as most in the media were not. The letter goes on to suggest that if Kawauchi opens up communication, the State Elections Office can understand the scope of any problems that may exist and attempt to rebuild the public’s trust in our elections that has been compromised this week. He also expressed concern “that the poll books which are the cornerstone of ensuring that voters are in the proper polling place may have been compromised…..ultimately this may not only inconvenience voters but may lead to possible election challenges.”
One of the challenges, Nago said separately, is that the State Elections Office does not have direct jurisdiction over the Hawaii County Chief Elections Officer, who is the County Clerk. But he said the Elections Officers throughout the state have always worked closely together to ensure the integrity of the elections process. He said the only person to whom the County Clerk answers is the Chair of the County Council — in Hawaii County, Dominic Yagong.
Another interesting set of calls was generated by candidates. Candidates for office are legally entitled to get copies of the most current voter registration rolls, so they might do mailouts and walk their precincts. Candidates have been unable to get that information from the Hawaii County Elections Office, so have been calling the State Elections Office–but it’s not the State’s role to provide those rolls–that’s a County function. Hilo Attorney Ted Hong said the County Elections Office could be subject to a federal challenge, if a candidate feels their rights have been violated by the failure of the County to provide the list in a timely fashion. At this point, with only 17 days left before the election, candidates would have little time to do a mailer.
Ms. Kawauchi and Council Chair Yagong have not yet responded to requests for comment on the letter nor on the County’s readiness to manage the August 11th election. It’s not clear whether Ms. Kawauchi shared the letter with Chair Yagong, and the requests for response went out Wednesday evening after normal business hours. However, the same information was sent to Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida, the County Council’s attorney, and he responded at 9 p.m. saying he had the information and was reviewing it.