OPINION: Where In the World is Jamae Kawauchi?
The term has been tossed around the internet for a few years now, being used to describe spectacular displays of on-screen disaster that normally involve failed trampoline stunts and skateboarding tricks gone wrong.
But given how thoroughly off the rails Big Island primary elections went on Aug. 11, it may be the apt phrase to use here.
Like a downhill skier that veered off a cliff and sailed into the forest, chief County Elections Clerk Jamae Kawauchi seemingly failed to keep Big Island polling stations on track before she herself vanished into the wilderness.
The search to locate her is currently underway.
Big Island Now reported on Aug. 11 that Gov. Neil Abercrombie had made the unusual decision to intervene in the Big Island elections process, mandating a 90-minute extension of polling station hours. Abercrombie’s proclamation said over half of the polling stations in Hawaii County opened later than their scheduled 7 a.m. starting times, prompting action by the governor.
Despite requests for information by state elections officials, Clerk Kawauchi still had not provided a detailed explanation to them as of yesterday. She also had not returned a call from Big Island Now seeking comment.
Also on the hunt for Kawauchi’s whereabouts was state Senate District 4 candidate Lorraine Inouye, who is considering requesting a recount after falling 69 votes short of incumbent Sen. Malama Solomon in Saturday’s contest. Inouye cited irregularities in the final vote tally and reports of ballots “floating around” as reasons for concern.
As of yesterday afternoon, Inouye also reported not having heard from the County Clerk, after an attempt at contacting her.
This is not the first time Kawauchi has pulled a disappearing act. After a seemingly unscheduled closing of the Hawaii County Elections Division office on July 23, the clerk failed to provide a timely briefing on the matter to the state’s chief elections officer, Mike Nago, taking more than a week to respond to his office’s request.
Further, in a July 27 report by Hawaii News Now, the news outlet noted that the County Clerk had failed to respond to multiple media organizations regarding a meeting she held with the state attorney general’s office. She also reportedly failed to even communicate with her own county-assigned lawyer, Michael Udovick, who indicated she had not returned his calls after he discovered she had been meeting with state attorneys.
It’s unclear what might explain Kawauchi’s frequent disappearing acts. Internal conflict? Ineptitude? Secret ninja training? We can only speculate.
But somewhere between her unicorn-like tendencies and the delaying of our entire state’s voting results, Abercrombie seems to have lost patience with the election process as a whole. The state’s chief executive told the Star-Advertiser on Sunday that he was considering asking lawmakers to transfer all election authority back to the lieutenant governor, and has stated he favors changing Hawai`i to an entirely vote-by-mail (and perhaps online) system.
And who could blame him? In order to intervene in the Big Island’s election debacle, the governor had to invoke an obscure section of a state law normally reserved for earthquakes and acts of war. HRS Section 128-10 provides a loophole for the governor to seize control of public property temporarily if he deems it necessary to carry out a service, even if no physical emergency is present.
While Kawauchi may be taking shelter from a tornado of public criticism, the public may soon get to hear just a little about what went wrong. KHON 2 news has reported that state election officials will attempt to meet with her this afternoon.
Update: After meeting with Clerk Kawauchi on August 14th, state election officials have launched their own investigation.
Kawauchi may also soon get to explain election-day bloopers to the man who nominated her to her current post. It was announced today that the County Council, under the chairmanship of Dominic Yagong, has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Monday at the council’s Hilo chambers to review the matter.
That’s assuming the above parties are able to locate Ms. Kawauchi, who’s best defense of her own lack of communication may be to present herself as a victim of alien abduction. Regardless of the explanation, it’s time she phoned home.