Yagong said he spoke with the Attorney General’s office Monday morning, as any request for an Emergency or Special Meeting must be approved by the Attorney General’s office. Yagong says as soon as he gets the official approval, he will contact the Hawaii County Council members formally to set the meeting.
Yagong says he’s spoken only minimally, just this morning, with the Hawaii County Clerk, Jamae Kawauchi about the problems of Saturday. Some of the things reported by polling place workers and the media include several polling places on the West side not receiving their poll books (voter lists) until close to 8:30 a.m. and the poll lists not being properly sealed when they arrived.
The County Clerk refused on Saturday to speak to the media for most of the day. She did issue a press release at 9:09 a.m. Saturday stating that only one polling place, at Kahakai Elementary School, had opened late due to “supply problems.” By that time, it was clear that at least four polling places had opened late. Both the polling place sat Kona Vista Recreation Center and Kahakai School had not received their poll books, and there were also problems opening at Konawaena School, Kona Palisades, and Holualoa School. The “in charge” at both Kona Vista and Kahakai School said they had immediately called the County Elections Office at 5:45 a.m., so it was unclear why Kawauchi’s press release claimed only one polling place had “supply problems” and had opened late.
State Senator Josh Green contacted State Elections, the Attorney General’s office, and the Governor Saturday with a request to keep the polls open late after several constituents called or met with him to express concern about voters being turned away and denied their right to vote. By the time Governor Neil Abercrombie issued a proclamation to keep the Hawaii Island polling locations open until 7:30, 90 minutes past the usual closing time, the State Office of Elections said they believed up to half Hawaii Island’s polling places may have opened late.
County Council Members J Yoshimoto, Pete Hoffman, and Angel Pilago said they are supportive of holding a special meeting as quickly as possible. All said they want to give County Clerk Kawauchi a chance to explain herself and what has been going on in the Hawaii County Elections Office. Many of the Hawaii County Council members were up for election on Saturday and chose to stay back from any elections issues, and haven’t been aware of many of the issues.
The Elections Office has been under fire for months. At the May 30 meeting of the State Elections Commission, after hearing from Kawauchi, commissioners urged Hawaii County Council to review the Elections Office readiness. Chair Dominic Yagong declined to put the item on the agenda after being requested to do so by Council Member Dennis Fresh Onishi, asking Onishi to provide more information. Yagong and Kawauchi fired several longtime Elections Office workers, alleging misconduct. Well respected Elections Office Administrator Pat Nakamoto was one of those. After Nakamoto filed a grievance and was reinstated, Kawauchi still refused to restore her to the job, instead putting her on fully paid leave.
On July 23, Kawauchi closed the Hilo Elections Office unexpectedly for one day for an “audit,”, with no notice. She refused to answer State Elections Office and media questions, and finally State Elections Chief Scott Nago sent her a letter requesting a response to phone calls and emails. Both Yagong and Kawauchi indicated there may have been fraud after Kawauchi found 53 duplicate voter registrations (out of 101,728) and alleged that four people voted twice back in 2010. So far, allegations of “fraud” have not been substantiated, and all the duplicate voter registrations have been cleared up.
The State and County Elections Offices have traditionally been successful because of a long history of collaborating, sharing information, asking advice, and working to ensure that all elections go smoothly. The Hawaii County Clerk, who admitted to the State Elections Commission that she has no elections experience and only a “general understanding” of State elections laws, has refused to collaborate with both the State and the other Counties.
Yagong said at 5 p.m. Monday that he received word from the State Attorney General’s office that they do not see that this situation requires a meeting without giving the appropriate and as-required six day notice. Yagong said he’s setting the meeting for Monday, August 20, at the Hilo County Council Chambers at 10 a.m. The public may testify at the start of the meeting.