On Wednesday, the State Elections Commission held their long-scheduled regular post-Primary meeting. The agenda included reports from all the County Clerks and their Election Administrators about the August 11 Primary. There was a separate agenda item that was a discussion of preparations for the 2012 General Election. All the County Clerks were there except for Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi. She did not attend, she did not give any notice she would not attend, she did not send a representative, and she did not send a report, nor any information on planning for the General Election. The full story is below, in an article written for Civil Beat (www.civilbeat.com) by Alia Wong, who attended the meeting, and reprinted with permission.
Two days earlier, on Monday, Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi appeared before the Hawaii County Council and pledged the November 6, 2012 General Election will go better than the problem-plagued August 11 primary. She also agreed to work with the State Elections Office and other state agencies, and to accept their help. County Council Chair Dominic Yagong said he would spearhead the effort.
Big Island News Center sent a request to both Kawauchi and Yagong Wednesday night asking why Kawauchi did not participate in Wednesday’s meeting, and has not yet received a reply. The request was for a response by 5 p.m. Thursday to be part of this story, and there has been none yet.
Following the Wednesday meeting, State Elections Chief Scott Nago sent a letter to Kawauchi in which he said he and all the other County Clerks have now come up with a plan to resolve Hawaii County’s issues cooperatively and internally among the Elections Office team…but it does require Kawauchi to take part. Nago and the other County Clerks agreed it would be very beneficial for all Clerks, Elections Administrators, and Staffs to participate in a series of workshops. They will hold three meetings in September, one in each county—Oahu, Maui, and Kaua’i, where the Clerks and their staffs will review and discuss the statewide elections procedures and talk about how they work in each County. Nago pointed out that although the counties have areas where they differ, they are more alike than not, so the procedures should be applicable to all.
Nago asked Kawauchi to provide dates in September on which she and her staff will be available to come to the three workshops.
The General Election is Tuesday, November 6, just over ten weeks away.
Lt. Governor Brian Schatz denied a request by County Council Chair Yagong that Schatz host a meeting for Kawauchi to talk with the Governor, Attorney General, and State Elections Officials about preparations. He said the Administration will monitor Hawaii County’s elections preparations, but suggested Kawauchi and Yagong focus on working with the State Office of Elections. In the Monday County Council meeting, Council members suggested they all stay out of the Elections process, but Chair Yagong is Kawauchi’s direct boss and clearly feels it’s part of his responsibility to spearhead efforts on her behalf.
The Civil Beat article:
By Alia Wong 08/22/2012
“If you don’t know the game of basketball and you’re going to run a tournament, good luck.”
Those were the words of Hawaii County Council Member Dennis Onishi, who spoke before the state Elections Commission at a routine meeting Wednesday.
He was alluding to primary election day fiascos on the Big Island that culminated in the delayed opening of 13 polling places. State elections officials blamed the mishaps on Hawaii County clerk Jamae Kawauchi. She’s been on the job since 2010, but this is her first election.
Everyone at the meeting — commissioners, election officials, other county clerks — agreed that Kawauchi’s inexperience in running elections fueled the problems.
Yet Kawauchi was the only county clerk not in attendance Wednesday.
Those who testified before the commission, including Onishi, suggested that state elections officials ought to send an expert to Kawauchi’s office who can facilitate election-day preparation and implementation. Onishi estimated that only one employee currently working in Hawaii County’s Elections Office has run an election before.
But commissioners and state elections chief Scott Nago emphasized that they can’t force that on Kawauchi. She herself must be the one who seeks assistance, said Nago.
Onishi jokingly told Civil Beat after the meeting that he rated the gathering a 4.5 out of 10.
“Yes, it’s great that they listened to my concerns, but I really don’t think that anything’s going to happen,” he said, noting that he had attended as a private citizen. “Like they mentioned, they (commissioners and state elections officials) don’t have the jurisdiction over the county clerk.”
To that end, Onishi said he plans to draft a council resolution requiring the clerk to seek help. He said that the resolution could be heard as soon as mid-September. And he thinks it’ll get enough votes to pass.
Hawaii County Election Commissioner Margaret Masunaga offered to meet with Kawauchi face-to-face to help her address any problems. Maui County Clerk Jeffrey Kuwada told commissioners that he’d be willing to to help Kawauchi troubleshoot logistical issues.
But officials found themselves in a bind, particularly in light of Kawauchi’s absence.
“I’m somewhat concerned that the county that experienced the most problem is not here today,” said Maui Commissioner Warren Orikasa. “The first sequence in that remedy [of the problems] is to participate with Commission and Office of Elections. This absence really speaks volumes.”
On Monday, Kawauchi sent out an eight-page memorandum criticizing the state’s Office of Elections for taking her record books — which log events at each polling place — without her permission.
But Nago told commissioners that Kawauchi had taken the situation out of context.
“We never would’ve taken the record books without her knowledge,” he said. Nago and his staff acquired the books once Kawauchi indicated she had reviewed all of her paper records. “To this date she has not asked for them back.”
As to whether the general election will proceed without a hitch, Nago says he trusts that Kawauchi will learn from her mistakes.
“We will provide all the assistance we can without compromising the rest of the state,” he said.