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Elections Office Closed ‘For Auditing’; Reason Unknown

July 23, 2012, 3:11 PM HST (Updated July 23, 2012, 8:58 PM)
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In a move one veteran state election official called unprecedented, the Hawai`i County Elections Division office in Hilo was closed today.

A sign on the front door said the office was “closed for auditing.” The notice signed by County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said the office would reopen on Tuesday.

The sign said telephone calls were being routed to the Kona elections office at 323-4400. Walk-ins were directed to the Council Services office across the hall.

It was not immediately clear who was conducting the audit or why, or if it is related to the primary election 19 days away.

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Staff at the Council Services office said they did not know.

That office has pamphlets and other elections information on the counter to hand out to anyone seeking basic information, but its staff was taking down names and telephone numbers of anyone with other questions to be answered tomorrow.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi. File photo.

Staff there also said Kawauchi, who heads the county’s Election Division, was not immediately available for comment, but would return queries after 4:30 p.m.

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The county’s auditor, Colleen Schrandt, told Big Island Now that her office is not involved in the audit. Schrandt said she was not aware that the Elections Office was closed until she began receiving inquiries from the media.

Rex Quidilla, of the state Office of Elections in Honolulu, said that his office is not aware of what type of audit is underway.

“As of 1 p.m., we were notified that the Hilo office is closed for auditing,” said Quidilla, administrator for the office’s Voting Services Section. “That’s all we know.”

Quidilla said he is not aware of an audit ever previously being done on a county elections office.

“I’ve not had this experience in my 12 years as an elections administrator,” he said.

Leanda Santos, a member of the staff of the state Auditor Marion Higa, said that office also is not involved in the audit.

It remains to be seen whether the audit is related to the firings last year and early this year of four elections workers – including longtime elections administrator Pat Nakamoto – in connection to alleged improprieties regarding activities at the county’s elections warehouse.

Kawauchi had fired Nakamoto and two others in January following allegations that they had taken part in drinking of alcohol at the warehouse after elections. Critics of the firing said such activities had been going on for many years.

Fired last October was warehouse manager Glen Shikuma, who was accused of running a business out of the warehouse and storing his personal sign-making equipment and alcohol there.

Nakamoto has been reinstated to her position following a union grievance procedure, although she has not yet returned to work.

Ten days ago, Kawauchi held a press conference during which she outlined progress the elections office had made and assured media and candidates that the elections process was on track for the Aug. 11 primary.

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