State elections office taking over Hawaii County elections Nov. 6

State elections office taking over Hawaii County elections Nov. 6
Jamae Kawauchi
Jamae Kawauchi

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Chief Election Officer Scott Nago announced today that the Office of Elections will rescind its delegation of state responsibilities to the County of Hawaii.

The state office announced it will administer election day activities such as delivery and collection, control center and polling place operations.

"We believe that this decision best ensures a successful general election in the County of Hawaii," Nago said. "It will allow the county to focus its resources exclusively on voter registration and absentee voting."

This move is meant to directly address the issues of polling place communication and timely delivery of supplies to polling places. Nago emphasized that the change will be transparent to Big Island voters and poll workers.

The office has located a control center and a counting center in the Hilo State Office Building. Ballot Operations Section Head Lori Tomczyk will be the State's lead administrator. In primary election, Tomczyk provided support for state election operations in Hilo.

During the primary election Aug. 11, more than a dozen Hawaii County polling places opened late, causing Gov. Neil Abercrombie to order all election sites on the island to be kept open an hour and a half late, delaying election returns statewide.

On Sept. 18, the county clerks from three counties were present at the State Election Commission meeting, but Jamae Kawauchi was absent, just as she was missing from the August meeting.  Her attendance there was not mandatory but in the cooperative community of election officials, her absence created concern less than two months before the general election.

Kawauchi attended a training session held last week on Maui. The clerks held one election training workshop on Kauai which Kawauchi did not attend earlier this month. Instead, she sent four underlings, the clerks said.

Last month, the League of Women Voters asked state elections officials to launch an independent investigation of the election problems on the Big Island.

"The effects of a botched election in November could easily spread beyond Hawaii County.  Any questionable practices might generate candidate lawsuits, which are always costly to taxpayers," said Janet Mason, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

But the chair of the elections commission explained why the panel rejected that idea.

"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," said William Marston, a Kauai resident who heads of the volunteer elections panel.

Kawauchi fired the county's longtime elections administrator, Pat Nakamoto, early this year.  Nakamoto filed a grievance and was given her old job back, but Kawauchi sent her home without an explanation, putting Nakamoto on leave with pay, according to Nakamoto's attorney, Ted Hong.

In September, Nakamoto and another elections staffer sued Kawauchi for defamation over the firings.

Kawauchi appointed another person as acting elections administrator but she went out on sick leave just days before the primary.  Kawauchi, who never worked an election season in the clerk's office, was appointed to the clerk's job by a unanimous vote of the Hawaii County Council in late 2010.

She alarmed election officials this summer by abruptly closing her office for a day to conduct an audit without notice, remaining out of touch with key elections officials for up to a week and going to the state Attorney General's office concerned about voter fraud over a handful of cases that more experienced elections officials considered an overreaction to routine errors that showed no pattern of wrongdoing.

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