State takes over Big Island elections

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

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has seized control of elections on the Big Island due in the wake of voting delays that plagued the county's primary vote

State elections officials said they have "no confidence" in County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and made the move to avoid problems in the November general election.

"They didn't feel we could run a successful general election in the County of Hawaii if we continued on this current path," said State Chief Election Officer Scott Nago.

"This has never been done before."

Nago said meetings last month with Kawauchi and elections workers convinced him that the county clerk hasn't done enough to solve the voting delays that marred the August primary.

On the primary election night, Gov. Neil Abercrombie kept Big Island polls open an hour-and-a-half later after Kawauchi told state officials that 25 of 40 polling stations did not open on time.

The delays were caused by missing supplies and communications problems. Poll workers were unable to contact county elections officials because cell phones were not programmed with correct phone numbers.

In addition, an election canister that was supposed to go to Waimea was instead taken 90 miles away to Kona, resulting in a cascade of additional delays.

Kawauchi did not return calls. Big Island Councilman Dennis Onishi said he welcomed the state's intervention.

"This ensure that the public can trust the upcoming general elections ... to have confidence that everything will run smoothly," he said.

The state said it will hire nearly half a dozen temporary workers and that it will be responsible for counting the votes and coordinating more than 600 election volunteers.

The county, meanwhile, will remain in charge of absentee voting and voter registration.

Nago said Oahu elections official Lori Tomczyk will be the state's lead on the Big Island. He said the state's cost will be about $50,000.

The state said it  the legal authority to make such a move. But Kawauchi could sue to stop the takeover. And that could delay the state's preparation for the general election, which is only a month away.

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