Voter fraud investigation targets Hawaii County as clerk has voter registration trouble

Voter fraud investigation targets Hawaii County as clerk has voter registration trouble
Published: Jul. 27, 2012 at 12:50 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:53 PM HST
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Hilo, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) – A possible voter fraud case on the Big Island is the subject of an investigation, a law enforcement source told Hawaii News Now Thursday.

The probe focuses on allegations that some absentee ballots were improperly "doctored," the source said.

A second source, a state government employee, said Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi spent much of Thursday afternoon meeting with a lawyer at the state Attorney General's office in Honolulu.

Further details about the allegations or about what she spent hours meeting with a deputy attorney general about were not available Thursday night.

With just 15 days to go until the primary election, Hawaii County election officials are re-sending some voter registration notices after a first batch was sent with wrong information.

The state's chief election officer, Scott Nago, is worried the mix-up could prompt candidates to challenge election outcomes and upset that county clerk has not briefed him on what's happening since she closed her office for an audit on Monday.

The problems are with the yellow voter registration notices that confirm voters' addresses and tell them which polling place to go to on primary election day, Saturday, Aug. 11.

Kawauchi has told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald some of the cards in the first mailing directed voters to incorrect polling places, problems she attributed to re-districting this year, which changed the boundaries of some districts.

In a news release Wednesday, the clerk's office said new yellow cards will be sent to voters who were mis-assigned to incorrect polling places.  The mis-assignments affected fewer than 175 voters on two streets, the release said.

As of Wednesday, 5,212 yellow cards were returned to the office because their forwarding address had expired, the mail was undeliverable and other reasons, the release said.  The county elections division will make every effort to contact those voters, the release said.

Nago wrote Kawauchi a letter Wednesday in which he pleaded with her to communicate with him about what was happening, since for two days she failed to respond to his requests for an update on the problems.

"It is imperative that you discuss this matter with us so we may have a better understanding of the scope of the problem," Nago said.  He called her behavior "simply unacceptable on the part of a fellow election administrator."

State elections officials were unable to set up a meeting with Kawauchi Thursday, the third day they've been unsuccessful at getting a briefing from her, said Rex Quidilla, a state elections spokesman.  Kawauchi did not return phone and email messages Hawaii News Now left for her Wednesday.

Nago worries voters might disregard the second yellow card they receive and go to the wrong polling place.

"Ultimately, this may not only inconvenience voters but may lead to possible election challenges," Nago wrote, referring to cases where candidates or their campaigns challenge the outcome of an election.

Earlier this year, following an investigation into activities at the county's election warehouse in Hilo, Yamauchi fired Hawaii County's longtime elections administrator and three other elections staffers.

They were accused of drinking, storing alcohol and running a private business out of the warehouse that houses election supplies.

The elections administrator has since been reinstated after filing a grievance but has not returned to the job.

This is Kawauchi's first election as clerk and she told the State Elections Commission at its May meeting that she had a "general understanding of election laws, administration and operations," according to draft minutes of the meeting. Election commissioner Patricia Berg expressed serious concern" about the situation, saying that "having new staff with little election experience in key positions and dealing with the compressed election preparation time, there is a real possibility that serious problems will arise," according to draft minutes of the meeting.

An attorney who worked in private practice and clerked for a judge, Kawauchi is a graduate of the UH William S. Richardson School of Law.  According to her biography on the Hawaii County web site, she held three-year stints at a number of jobs recently.  She was a clerk for Hawaii State Judge Greg Nakamura from 1998 to 2000, an associate at the law firm Carlsmith Ball from 2004 to 2006, then an associate at Tsuzaki Yeh and Moore from 2006 to 2008, and had her own law practice from 2008 to 2010.  She also served as the assistant director of the Harvard Medical School Center of Excellence from 2002 to 2004, her bio said.

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