County Council Chair Dominic Yagong confirmed on Saturday that Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi is in communication with the State Attorney General’s office and federal agencies on matters pertaining to county elections. Hawaii News Now has reported the FBI has gotten involved in an investigation into allegations of voter fraud on the Big Island. However, the FBI at this point isn’t confirming exactly what the issues are. Yagong said the issues pertain to previous elections held here on Hawaii Island. He said he believes the County Elections Office is ready for the current elections. The County Clerk reports directly to the Chair of the Hawaii County Council, the only “higher authority” over the Clerk.
County Clerk Kawauchi has not responded to requests for information, including exactly why she closed the County’s HIlo Elections Office last Monday, July 23, other than to say she was comparing voter lists. On Wednesday, July 25, the State Elections Chief, Scott Nago, finally had a letter delivered to Kawauchi’s office asking her to please respond to their calls and emails, as they were getting numerous inquiries from candidates, the public, and the media about what was going on. The letter was scathing, and expressed Nago’s concern that Kawauchi’s actions had lead to “significant speculation in the public about the integrity of our elections.” The State Elections Office said she did respond with an email overnight Wednesday asking for a Thursday meeting in Honolulu, but when they called and emailed they heard nothing back and Kawauchi never followed through with a response or visit. As of Friday afternoon, they still had heard nothing, although they believed she had met Thursday with attorneys in the State Attorney General’s office.
State Elections Office Letter to County Clerk: Here It Is
Yagong indicated the Federal involvement was fairly recent. The State Elections Commission asked at their May 30 meeting, two months ago and apparently well before there was any Federal involvement, that the County Council review the readiness and capability of the County Elections Office. Kawauchi had appeared before the State Elections Commission at their May 30 meeting. The members expressed concerns about the capability of the office, with few experienced workers and a County Clerk who by her own admission had only “a general understanding of state laws” and no prior elections experience. Yagong has declined to put the matter on the Council’s agenda, despite the suggestion of the State Elections Commission. Saturday, when asked why he has not put it on the agenda, he did not answer.
What is also not clear is why Kawauchi has not yet responded to requests from Big Island News Center for confirmation of voter registration numbers, for the island as a whole and for each County Council District. A request was made in writing on Monday, July 23, for information that is easily available and is public. Kawauchi last Tuesday said she was taking the request under advisement, and wasn’t sure she wanted to provide the numbers in writing as requested.
On Wednesday, a second request was submitted, in writing, to Kawauchi, Yagong, and Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida, as the office of the Corporation Counsel is the attorney for the office of the County Clerk. Ashida confirmed on Thursday they had the request and were treating it as a request under the Freedom of Information Act. As Ashida is a candidate for the office of County Prosecutor, he has recused himself from any matters pertaining to the election and has assigned this matter to attorney Michael Udovick. However, he said Kawauchi has not responded to their phone calls nor emails. Udovick told Keoki Kerr of Hawaii News Now he was unaware Kawauchi had even met with the Attorney General’s office until he heard Kerr’s report. As Kerr pointed out, that means that Kawauchi is not even communicating with the attorney supposed to be handling matters pertaining to the County Elections Office.
Kawauchi has been unresponsive to most media requests in the past week. But unexpectedly, she showed up at the annual Scholarship Dinner of the Big Island Press Club on Friday evening, July 27 along with her newly-hired “media relations specialist,” Leina’ala Lee. Neither would answer any questions related to Elections Office business.