Elections Commission launches investigation into primary problems

Elections Commission launches investigation into primary problems

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's embattled election chief now faces another investigation by the state Elections Commission. Members decided at a meeting on Friday to take a closer look at Scott Nago's handling of the primary election.

Nago delayed voting for two Puna precincts devastated by Tropical Storm Iselle. He said once the polls opened, he couldn't do anything after receiving reports that voters in other areas were blocked by debris.

"Our office doesn't have the authority to take action regarding the polls once they are open election day. Only the governor has the authority. Given this, we relayed our concerns to the Attorney General's Office to inform the governor," explained Nago.

Commissioners also heard from lawmakers and voters upset about the decision to hold a make-up election while Puna families were still struggling. Members questioned the confusing decision to switch to a walk-in vote at a single site after election officials had already announced that ballots would be mailed out.

Big Island lawmakers suggested redoing the voting for Puna districts impacted by Iselle. A lawsuit filed yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union asks the Hawaii Supreme Court to allow residents unable to vote because of the storm to cast ballots that would be added to the primary results. The governor and the Attorney General's Office declined to comment due to the litigation.

"The decisions made in this election were just pitifully poor," said South Kona/Kau Councilwoman Brenda Ford. "Frankly, Mr. Nago needs to be removed from this office."

Two other lawmakers also asked commissioners to fire Nago.

"If you were to kick him out and bring in some newbie to replace his slot in that core, you're going to be setting back elections, you're not going to be moving them forward," said voter Bart Dame.

Commissioner Zale Okazaki grilled Nago about 800 Maui County ballots that were on a memory card that wasn't read on primary election night.

"800 votes don't get counted and you waited two days to tell us?" asked Okazaki.

Nago admitted that the information should have been released immediately instead of waiting for the special election. He also said his office is working with the vendor that made the mistake to create new procedures. A routine audit will be done on election night instead of days later to check for any discrepancies.

"The bottom line, after you hold everybody accountable, the hammer falls on your head," said Commissioner Danny Young to Nago.

The commission decided to launch an investigation and create three subcommittees. One will go over the decision-making process with Nago. Another will focus on the Big Island problems. The last one will look into procedures to prevent another ballot mistake on Maui.

"The commission feels that to be entirely fair, we need to investigate these things further before any decisions are made or any judgments are made," said William Marston, chairman of the Elections Commission

"We're just going to participate, make sure we give them all the information that we can," said Nago after the meeting.

Commissioners chose not to discipline Nago after a ballot shortage in 2012.

The Elections Commission will meet again on October 3.

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