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Election Chief: Voting Process on Track For Primary

July 12, 2012, 6:08 PM HST (Updated July 13, 2012, 9:17 AM)
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The person in charge of elections on the Big Island said today that the voting process is on track.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, who also heads up the Hawaii County Elections Division, today gave an overview of the proceedings to candidates and media at the County Council room.

Despite a shakeup in the division’s personnel, and delays caused by lawsuits filed over the reapportionment process which drew up new boundaries for state offices, Kawauchi said the county will be ready for the Aug. 11 primary.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi describes the efforts taken by the staff of the Elections Division to prepare for the upcoming primary election. Photo by Dave Smith.

“I do believe we’ll have a fair and honest election,” she told Big Island Now.

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This year for the first time, permanent absentee voting applications were mailed to every registered Hawaii County voter.

Kawauchi said the response has been strong, with more than 17,000 voters choosing that method so far compared to 6,000 in 2010.

“What that tells me, is your public is very anxious to vote,” she said, adding that it also indicates that voters want choices on the methods they use.

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One of the biggest challenges elections’ workers have faced this year is making sure that voters are placed in, and are aware of, the correct election precincts.

Kawauchi’s staff had to pinpoint locations for roughly one quarter of the approximately 101,000 registered voters in Hawaii County.

Because of changes to boundaries for both state and county races – which are mandated every 10 years – the state election’s office was unable to determine the precincts to which 26,000 Big Island voters belong.

Specialized computer software and various data bases, including information from the county Planning Department and 911 data, helped determine some of the voters’ locations.

Kawauchi said in some other cases, such as when no street address was available and the voter’s address was identified only by a voter’s tax map key, or TMK, it was sometimes necessary for the workers to go out and physically find the home.

County officials also had to factor in a new state law that establishes “pocket precincts,” which are those that won’t have a physical voting site.

In an effort to save money and resources, lawmakers designated precincts with less than 500 voters as “virtual” precincts. Voters in those precincts must vote either by absentee ballot or walk-in voting.

There are three pocket precincts on the Big Island, two in the Hilo area and one in the Pahoa area.

Also complicating the process was the addition of a fourth state Senate seat on the Big Island covering parts of Puna and Ka`u.

Kawauchi said the yellow cards detailing each voter’s precinct and voting location will be mailed next week.

Kawauchi’s presentation included details on the county’s efforts to reach out to Big Island youth, which she said is crucial to improving an anemic voter turnout.

In the 2010 election, less than half of the state’s registered voters made it to the polls.

The problems the Big Island’s Election Division faced this year included the firings early this year of several election workers, including longtime election program administrator Pat Nakamoto.

Nakamoto has reportedly won back her job through a union grievance process but has not yet returned to work.

Kawauchi today introduced the division’s interim administrator, Arlene Boteilho. Her duties include coordinating the activities of roughly 700 poll workers across the island.

Kawauchi today declined to comment on Nakamoto’s status.

Statewide, election officials have had to deal with delays resulting from several legal challenges to the political maps drawn up by the state Reapportionment Commission which delayed candidate filings for state offices.

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