New Elections Chief grilled about special election - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

New Elections Chief grilled about special election

Scott Nago Scott Nago
Senator Donna Mercado Kim Senator Donna Mercado Kim

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email 

HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) - The State Office of Elections says it intends to hold a special election to fill the seat of outgoing Congressman Neil Abercrombie. But how, when, and where the funding comes from is all up the air.

One thing's for sure after 19-years in Washington Representative Abercrombie says he'll step down on February 28th.

His announcement comes coincidentally on Scott Nago's first day on the job as Hawaii's interim chief elections officer. He was appointed last Wednesday.

When Scott Nago sat down to testify today before the Senate Ways & Means Committee, senators weren't sure if they should offer congratulations or condolences because of the huge job ahead of him. Then the committee held his feet to the fire.

"Wouldn't you have researched this prior to taking this on?" asked committee chair Senator Donna Mercado Kim.

"That is something we haven't done," responded Nago.

He says the office intends to hold a special election but money is an issue. An all mail in ballot would cost taxpayers $925,000. A traditional polling place election would run $1.2 million and take 1,500 poll workers. Yet the office staff has been cut to 14 people and barely has enough money to make it through the rest of this fiscal year ending June 30th.

 "Where will the funds come from?" asked Sen. Kim.

"Um, that, it's not in our budget at this time," responded Nago.

Another issue is authority and whether Nago has the power to even call for a special election or if that's the governor's job.

"You are now the designated leader of where we're going so we need to have confidence we're going down the right path," said Sen. Kim.

"I understand. That is something I need more information on and I need to talk with general council about," responded Nago.

Then there is some mystery money. More than $1.3 million plus interest that's been sitting in a savings account since 2003. Apparently an accounting error put it there instead of the state's general fund. Nago didn't know for sure if it could be used for the election although an audit is looking into it.

"I would have hoped he would have been more prepared having been with the Office of Elections, having applied for the position of executive director, that they would have been more prepared, because these are not new questions we asked today," said Sen. Kim, after the meeting. "I'm just concerned the Office of Elections is not prepared to take on the special election as well as the general election which the preparations need to be done simultaneously."

Here are Nago's options, the mystery money could come through, he can request emergency funding from the state, apply for federal funds or forget it all and not do a special election. But if he takes that option the state attorney general said you can be sure the state will get sued.

No dates have been set but the earliest a special election could happen is May 1st, which is 60 days after Abercrombie resigns.

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