Election Review Prompts Finger-Pointing, But Little Else
The County Council held a special meeting today to receive a report on problems experienced during the Aug. 11 primary election. But instead of arriving at solutions, the result was much finger-pointing and spreading the blame around.
County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi ‘s report largely blamed the state Office of Elections, which she said did not clear up problems Kawauchi said she raised in 2011.
That prompted the release and discussion by council members of a letter written today by the state’s chief election officer, Scott Nago, calling Kawauchi’s report a “poor attempt to rehabilitate her operation of elections….”
Kawauchi’s report said she was “deeply concerned” about the election irregularities.
“As the chief elections officer for the County of Hawai`i no one can be more concerned than I am about the problems that occurred on election day,” it said.
The remainder of the eight-page, single-spaced report described the events that led to late openings of several West Hawai`i voting stations, and Kawauchi’s analysis of their impact on voting turnout. It concluded that while “voter confidence could be shaken,” the voter turnout was “within an expected range compared to the previous three elections.”
After she presented her report – and while the council heard public testimony on the matter – Kawauchi went to a nearby conference room where she held a press conference to say that she had asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to consider having the state’s lieutenant governor “oversee” the Hawai`i County Office of Elections.
That prompted the release this afternoon of a statement from Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz saying that while the Abercrombie administration “will make certain” that Hawai`i County and state election officials work together to execute a well-run election in November, state law does not allow Schatz’s office jurisdiction over the election process.
The day after the primary, Abercrombie told reporters he was considering asking the state Legislature to return control of elections to the lieutenant governor, as it was before 1995. That was the year lawmakers created the state’s chief election officer, who oversees the state and counties as they share various election functions.
Kawauchi also asked for an independent investigation of the election, but did not provide specifics.
She also blasted Nago for what she described as personal attacks.
The back-and-forth between Kawauchi and Nago’s office has been ongoing since before the election was held, with state officials saying that they have repeatedly offered assistance and Kawauchi maintaining that she had the situation under control.
Kawauchi told reporters that her review of what transpired on election day has been “hampered” by the state taking control of the record books from each of the county’s 40 precincts, which she said was done without her permission. That had County Councilman Angel Pilago asking whether there was a “security breach” of the county’s election offices, but Kawauchi said she was not willing to state that.
Nago’s letter said his office took control of the books, which Kawauchi later acknowledged is state property, because three days after the election Kawauchi still had not been able to determine how many polls opened late. In his letter Nago said Kawauchi’s staff helped provide the record books.
Councilman J Yoshimoto asked Kawauchi if she would accept the state’s assistance in the Nov. 6 general election but all Kawauchi would confirm was that help was needed.
As the meeting began, Council Chairman Dominic Yagong refused a request from Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi that Yagong yield the chairmanship for the meeting.
The chairman also advised council member to stick to the sole agenda item, Kawauchi’s report, and not discuss items not on the agenda “because of the Sunshine Law.” That was apparently a reference to discussions of Kawauchi’s tenure as county clerk, who is appointed by the chairman with the support of the majority of the council.
Near the end of the meeting, Onishi said he didn’t want a battle among council members “about the fate of the clerk,” but would seek assistance — and he hoped Kawauchi would, too — from state elections officials in November.
Kawauchi herself made the only other reference to her possible removal, saying during her press conference that “removing me will not solve any of the problems.”
The meeting concluded with council members agreeing that more advance preparation for the November election was needed and that restoring public confidence in the election process was paramount.
Meanwhile, state senator candidate Lorraine Inouye announced today that following a review of election records she will not seek a recount of her race’s results and congratulated incumbent Sen. Malama Solomon on her victory in the Democratic primary.