East Hawaii News

County Staff Attends Elections Workshop; Clerk a No-Show

September 18, 2012, 4:20 PM HST
* Updated September 19, 11:27 AM
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The Hawaii State League of Women Voters today weighed in on elections in Hawaii County with a list of recommendations designed to restore the public’s faith in the election process.

One of those, that Big Island election officials participate in announced statewide workshops, has already taken place — sort of.

Scott Nago, the state’s chief election officer, today told Big Island Now that four representatives from the Big Island — Deputy County Clerk Steve Lopez and three elections staffers — attended the first workshop held on Sept. 10 on Kauai to prepare for the general election.

However, Kawauchi was the only county clerk in the state not in attendance, Nago said. Asked if she gave a reason, Nago said he was told that she had a “debriefing” to attend that evening.

Nago last month proposed the workshops on Kauai, Oahu and Maui to allow election workers to observe each county’s successful techniques. At that time County Clerk Jamae agreed to have Hawaii County participate.

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“We would be happy to participate in the workshops …,” she said in a letter replying to Nago’s proposal.

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Kawauchi did not respond to phone calls and an email today from Big Island Now seeking comment.

At the workshop Kauai officials gave a presentation on their “best practices” techniques, Nago said.

Additional workshops have been scheduled for Sept. 27 on Maui and Oct. 4 in Honolulu.

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Nago said none are currently scheduled for the Big Island because the focus of the workshops is to share what worked during the primary election.

The Big Island encountered a variety of problems during the Aug. 11 election.

They included delays in opening nearly a third of its 40 precincts, which prompted a proclamation from Gov. Neil Abercrombie keeping the polls open an additional 90 minutes island-wide. Because cell phones provided to poll workers were not correctly programmed with phone numbers, there were also problems getting timely information from election officials.

Nago said that his office has had a debriefing with Kawauchi and other workers on the Big Island during which three areas of attention were identified: proper packing of precinct cans, refining operations at the control center and proper programming of the cell phones.

“We heard their concerns,” he said. “We want her to come up with an action plan that we can help her with.”

Nago said he intends to ask Kawauchi to have the plan ready by Sept. 27.

“All we want is what’s best for the voters of the Big Island,” he said.

In addition to the workshops, the statement issued today by the League of Women Voters had several other suggestions including urging the Hawaii County Council to “fully staff the Elections Division” and to make sure that “someone with experience in successfully managing elections” is in charge of preparing for and conducting the Nov. 6 general election.

The latter is also the focus of a resolution introduced by Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi.

The organization said it expects Kawauchi to follow state law that requires designating official political and press observers in the control center during the election. It is unclear whether that was complied with during the primary.

“Public release of identities of observers would reassure the public and media that the law is being implemented,” the group’s statement said.

The League of Women Voters also recommended that the state Elections Commission conduct an investigation of the “processes and actions that led up to the August 11 mishaps in Hawaii County.” It asked that the results be used to prevent similar problems in future elections and to clarify the respective responsibilities of state and county election workers.

“It’s not too late to prepare for smooth operation of the Big Island’s November election. Why risk a repeat of August’s problems, when something can be done about it?” the statement concluded.

Members of the state Elections Commission meeting Tuesday in Honolulu said they were frustrated with Kawauchi’s lack of cooperation, but its chairman said the panel doesn’t believe an investigation is appropriate at this time, Hawaii News Now reported.

“If we did an investigation at the present time, or started to do something, would this be disruptive, would it have negative effects.  We decided not to,” commision Chairman William Marston said, according to Hawaii News Now’s report.

***Updated Sept. 19 with information on the Elections Commission meeting.***

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