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Kawauchi, Yagong Disagree With Critical Report on Election

Posted August 17, 2012, 03:17 PM HST Updated August 17, 2012, 03:34 PM HST
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County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, left, and state Chief Election Officer Scott Nago, right, have agreed to hold meeting to work out election problems. File photos.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and her boss, County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, are disagreeing with the findings of a report issued Thursday by the state Office of Elections that heavily criticized Kawauchi’s handling of Saturday’s primary election.

Kawauchi and Yagong went further, with both saying that state election officials share much of the blame for Saturday’s problems.

The report by Chief Election Officer Scott Nago found that 13 of the 40 Big Island precincts failed to open at 7 a.m. as dictated by state law, including five that opened at 7:30 a.m. or later. Two did not open until 8:40 a.m.

The delayed opening of some of the precincts prompted Gov. Neil Abercrombie to take the unprecedented action of extending voting by 90 minutes at all Big Island locations.

The report said that Nago on Saturday sent one of his veteran elections workers, accompanied by a lawyer from the state attorney’s general office, to the Big Island to provide assistance.

“What my staff witnessed was poor planning, implementation and leadership by the County Clerk,” Nago’s report said.

However, while Saturday’s irregularities “unnecessarily undermined the public’s confidence in our electoral system,” the report said they did not “rise to the level of changing the election results.”

In an email sent by Kawauchi to Honolulu media Thursday, she admitted that there were errors committed Saturday, but said Nago’s report blew the matter out of proportion.

“I strongly disagree with the state Office of Elections and their assessment …” the email said. “Yes, there were errors that occurred on Primary Election Day. However this is not a perfect system, mistakes will be made and 100% accuracy should not be expected.

“Mr. Nago is being overly critical and he is failing to see that the big picture goal is to get through the elections.”

Her email went on to say that elections “require the cooperation of the state and counties working together and not pointing fingers at each other.”

Kawauchi’s email also criticized Nago for releasing the report to the media before allowing her to comment on its contents. In an interview this morning, Yagong said Nago did not even give Kawauchi an opportunity to see the report before it was released to the public.

“This lack of communication on his part does not help to improve or address the significant issues that Hawai‘i County and the State Office of Elections obviously need to overcome to work together in partnership to run an election,” Kawauchi’s email said.

Ironically, since July 23, when she closed the Hilo election office to complete a review of the voter list without informing Nago’s office of the reason until that afternoon, state elections officials have said Kawauchi is the one who has failed to communicate with them.

State elections officials have cited several occasions when they asked Kawauchi if the situation was under control and were told that it was. According to spokesman Rex Quidilla, on other occasions Kawauchi has returned some of their calls belatedly or not at all.

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Yagong, who appointed Kawauchi as clerk following the 2010 election, said he saw Nago’s report as an attempt by the state to “distance itself” from the problems encountered Saturday.

Yagong said that claims by state election officials that Kawauchi has not been in sufficient contact were exaggerated. He said in one case, they refused to go to a meeting she had at the state attorney general’s office in Honolulu, insisting that she meet with them at their Pearl City office instead.

Referring to the July 23 closure of the election office, Yagong said that could have been handled better.

“Maybe she should have informed the election office of what she was doing, but she was being thorough,” he said of the review that found four instances of people voting twice in 2010 and several dozen voters registered more than once.

“I think she could also have provided more information to the press,” he said.

Nago’s report included criticism of Kawauchi’s failure to determine how many polling places opened late. The six-page report said Kawauchi initially told his office that the number was three, but Kawauchi told the attorney general’s office that it was 25 and later in the say she told Nago’s office that it was at least 11.

Nago’s report said during a meeting with her on Tuesday Kawauchi also could not provide information as to why the polling places opened late, which prompted him to conduct his own investigation.

Kawauchi’s email said she was not even aware that Nago was investigating Saturday’s election on the Big Island. However, that had been reported by various media including Big Island Now, which published an article Wednesday entitled “State Election Officials Conducting Own Investigation.”

Today is Statehood Day in Hawai`i and a holiday for state and county workers, so elections officials could not be reached for their reaction to Kawauchi’s comments.

Yagong said today that the longest delays in opening of polling places occurred following a sequence of events that began the night before the election when the ballot supplies for the Waikoloa Elementary School were trucked to the Kona Civic Center instead of the Waimea police station.

He said when Deputy County Clerk Steve Lopez retrieved the Waikoloa materials from the civic center he found that the supplies for three Kona precincts, Kona Vistas, Kahakai Elementary School and Kona Palisades, were still there. Because he wanted to make sure they stayed secure, Lopez took them with him to Waikoloa – which opened at 7:45 a.m. – before returning to Kona to finish the deliveries, Yagong said.

As a result, the Palisades station opened at 7:53 a.m. and the Kahakai and Kona Vistas polls both opened at 8:40 a.m.

 

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