The Hawaii County’s Elections Office was closed Monday with no warning, and no explanation—only 19 days before the Primary Election. The first the public knew was if they went to the Hilo office, only to find the door closed and a notice on the door that they were undergoing an “audit.”
The State Elections Office said they were only notified mid-day Monday about the one-day closure of the Hilo elections office, the main elections office for Hawaii county. Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state, said they received an email from the Hawaii County clerk’s office informing the chief election officer that, quote, ”the Hilo Elections office is closed for auditing.” Quidilla said as of Tuesday they had received no additional information, and don’t know what the audit was all about.
The Kona office, usually closed, was open on Monday, but they said they could not reveal the reason for the closure.
The Hawaii County Auditor, Colleen Schrandt, said she is not doing any audits of the office.
The Hawaii County Clerk is appointed by the Chair of the County Council. Council Chair Dominic Yagong said Monday evening he was aware the office was closed, but he could not reveal the reason.
The Deputy County Clerk, Steve Lopez, and personnel in the elections office said they were not allowed to talk with the press. However, Council Chair Yagong said he believed the Clerk and her team were reviewing the voter registration rolls, especially the requests for absentee ballots, because of big increases. He said he wasn’t aware of what exactly the Clerk was looking for.
Finally, around 3 p.m. Monday, County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi did respond, and said she and her staff are comparing the printed voter rolls they received from the City and County of Honolulu, with the database from which the information was compiled, which they also received from the City and County of Honolulu.
She said she was not looking for anything specific. She also said the audit started Friday, lasted all day Saturday and Sunday, and late Sunday she decided to close the Hilo elections office to allow the staff to devote all their time to the review. She also said it was an oversight on her part that the State Elections Office was not informed; she said she assumed somebody in her office had taken care of that but once she found out that had not happened, she made sure they got word. She added that the review is not yet finished and she isn’t sure when it will be.
Kawauchi pointed out she’s never handled an election before, and she does not know whether such a review is standard, but she’s trying to do what seems right in view of the fact that she’s not experienced in the elections process. However, the review she is conducting is comparing one list against a printout taken from the same list, so it’s unlikely there would be any deviation. To actually check source material the office would have to go back to check the original voter registration forms, which they are required to keep in perpetuity so could check if they wished.
For the 2010 general election, the number of registered voters was 101,009, The number increased for this year’s Primary by 700, an increase of less than 1 percent. But the number of absentee ballots requested has gone up quite a bit. Council Members say the number of mail-in absentee ballots in 2010 was around 7,000, and so far (the deadline to request is August 4) the number requested is nearly 18,000. But with the elections office mailing absentee ballot requests out to every voter—and shutting down three precincts and requiring voters in those precincts to vote absentee– having an increase in absentee ballot requests would seem logical.
The State Elections Office spokesman said Tuesday they did a complete review of the voter lists before they were mailed to the County, to ensure any duplicates were eliminated. Rex Quidilla said they use Social Security Numbers as a double check, to make sure people register only once. But he said the County Clerk had not shared any concerns with the State Office, so he wasn’t sure what her concerns –if any– are.