Hawaii's election chief defends primary performance

Hawaii's election chief defends primary performance

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's chief election officer is facing sharp criticism once again. The concerns from lawmakers were sparked by the controversial Puna special election and 800 uncounted ballots from Maui County. Scott Nago continued to defend his handling of the primary.

"Given the circumstances that the staff did (face) I think everybody involved in this election did a good job," said Nago.

Some critics are hoping he'll be fired.

"People are disgusted. They say this is just another example of the way Hawaii does things. We sweep things under the carpet. Nobody is held accountable," said State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Waialae-Kahala).

Nago delayed voting for two Puna precincts due to storm damage from Iselle. The office held a special election last Friday for registered voters in those areas who were unable to make it to the polls on August 9. Many families still struggling to recover complained about the rush.

"The law says that we would have to hold it as soon as practicable. The 21 days was meant for holding it by mail. It wasn't something the chief election officer can arbitrarily set the date, postpone it two weeks," explained Nago.

"It's my concern to have a clean, honest, fair, transparent electoral process. I'm not sure if the people in Puna got that," said State Sen. Gilbert Kahele (D-Hilo, Puna, Kau)

During the Puna election, a bank of voting machines at one precinct went down for about 20 minutes.

The new results released on Friday included 800 absentee mail-in Maui County ballots that were on a card that wasn't read.

"It's someone not putting the card in or getting confused with the card and bypassing it and not reading it," said Nago. "Fortunately, we do conduct the audits. That's how we knew we had a card that was not read."

Election officials found out about the mistake on Wednesday, but officials held off on releasing the information for two days. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz called the accounting error "appalling and outrageous."

"In hindsight, that's something we probably would have looked at, releasing it sooner, but at that time, we said we had to release results on Friday, we'll just put it in with the Friday results," Nago said. "For us to actually consolidate, print new results, it's just a lot of work to bring up the system. We would have had to bring it up on Friday anyway to do the special election."

Nago will brief the state Elections Commission about the problems on August 22. The panel launched an investigation in 2012 after a ballot shortage, but didn't terminate or discipline him.

"Nobody out there wants to make a mistake and we're trying our best to minimize them," Nago said. "To label this as a bad election for one thing, I think that's unfair."

Commission chair William Marston said that he is reserving judgment until he hears from Nago.

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