State Elections Chief Critical of County Clerk
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by Dave Smith
The state’s top election officer has sent a letter to the official in charge of Hawai`i County’s Elections Division saying he is concerned that her recent actions may have shaken the public’s confidence in the upcoming primary election.
“The lack of communication of your office in the last few days has seriously undermined the hard work that the election community does to build the trust of the public in the integrity of the electoral system,” Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said in a letter dated Wednesday to Hawai`i County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi.
Nago said his office has been fielding calls from people concerned about when absentee ballots will be mailed, and about Monday’s closure of the Hilo election office.
“Your closure on July 23, 2012, and your failure to thoroughly communicate to the rest of the election community and the media as to the reasons for the closure, has unnecessarily lead [sic] to significant speculation in the public about the integrity of our elections only a few weeks before the August 11, 2012, Primary Election,” Nago’s letter said.
“This is simply unacceptable on the part of a fellow election administrator,” the letter continued. “The public relies on us to be assured that their elections are safe and secure.”
Kawauchi told Big Island Now on Tuesday that the office was closed Monday to allow for the completion of a three-day inspection of the Big Island voter registry. She said that was done in an attempt to ensure that all voter information was correct and that they are correctly assigned to their proper precincts, a process that was made more complicated by this year’s redrawing of election boundaries.
In the letter, Nago also was critical of Kawauchi’s failure to reply to a letter sent to her from his office on Monday seeking information on how Big Island election officials are ensuring the integrity of the voter rolls.
“Given that you have concerns about the accuracy of your voter registration rolls and the assignment of voters to their proper precinct, we believe it is imperative that you discuss this matter with us so we may have a better understanding of the scope of the problem,” Nago said.
Nago’s letter also noted that his office had heard from the media that Kawauchi had stated that the county would again be mailing out notices of voter registration and address confirmation commonly referred to as the “yellow card.” Nago said that could confuse voters, but he assumed that Kawauchi must have deemed it necessary in order to correct possible errors.
He went on to say that he was concerned that the state’s voter poll books used at each precinct – as well as the absentee ballots to be mailed later this week – may be compromised since both are based on the same information as the yellow cards.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today reported today that the yellow cards, some of them revised, would be resent next week to all of the Big Island’s 101,728 registered voters.
However, Kawauchi this morning issued a press release stating that media accounts saying that all the cards would be resent were in error, and that less than 175 yellow cards would be resent to voters who were “mis-assigned.” Her statement does not define what that means, although it goes on to say that she is aware that “two Hawai`i Island streets were mis-assigned to the wrong zip code.”
Kawauchi could not immediately be reached for further comment.
Her release also said that as of Wednesday, 5,212 yellow cards have been returned to her office because they were undeliverable to the addresses for various reasons including that forwarding addresses had expired or the voter was temporarily away. Kawauchi said her office would attempt to contact those voters.
Her statement also noted that yellow cards sent to voters who had previously requested to be mailed absentee ballots do not display a polling place. If those voters instead opt to vote in person, it said, they can obtain their state representative district and precinct information from the cards and consult the website of the county Elections Division at www.hawaiicounty.gov/elections-voter-info to find their polling place. Those voters can also call the Elections Division offices in Hilo (961-8277) or in Kona (323-4400) to obtain that information.
Kawauchi’s statement also said that voters who have not received their yellow card by Friday should call one of those election offices.