Office of Elections blasts Hawaii County Clerk for election snafus

Published: Aug. 16, 2012 at 6:35 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 17, 2012 at 12:39 PM HST
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Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi
Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a scathing six-page report, the state Office of Elections criticized Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi after several problems at Big Island polling places during Saturday's primary election.

In the report, state elections chief Scott Nago said his staff witnessed "poor planning, implementation and leadership by the County Clerk."

"Essentially, the County Clerk on election day is supposed to be like a field general with a plan of attack, who acts confidently, and has the support of his or her troops," the report said. "The County Clerk was in no way, shape, or form that type of leader."

The report also slammed Kawauchi for not knowing how many polls opened late on the Big Island. "Specifically, the County Clerk at no specific time had a handle on how many polling places out of the forty in the county opened late."

Kawauchi initially reported that three polling places opened late. Nago said Kawauchi "lacked the ability to definitely articulate the nature of the problem to the Office of Elections or the public. This resulted in the need for the governor to conduct triage, in the form of an emergency proclamation, extending polling place hours, based on the limited information that she provided the Attorney General."

Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued the proclamation, extending polling hours on the Big Island to 7:30 p.m., 90 minutes after the normal poll closing time.

The elections office said it took custody of the record books of all 40 polling places on the Big Island and interviewed each precinct chairperson on the island. The state's investigation determined that 13 polling places had opened late. Four opened between 7:01 a.m. and 7:03 a.m. and five opened by 7:30 a.m., a half-hour late. However, the report said a polling place at Waikoloa Elementary School did not open until 7:45 a.m., and Kona Palisades Community Center opened at 7:53 a.m.

The two polling places with the latest opening times were Kahakai Elementary School and Kona Vistas Center, which both opened at 8:40 a.m.

The report said that the polling place irregularities on the Big Island "did not rise to the level of changing the election results." However, it concluded, "As for the question of whether the conduct of the County Clerk unnecessarily undermined the public's confidence in our electoral system, the answer is unfortunately yes."

Nago added, "This cannot be allowed to happen again."

To read the full report, click HERE.

To read the precinct opening report, click HERE.

The following is a statement from the Hawaii County Clerk:

"I note that in the usual course, if an investigation is conducted, notice and an opportunity to respond is expected, prior to the release of the findings of the investigation to the public and the media. Regrettably, Mr. Nago did not provide me with an opportunity to respond to his report or to provide comment prior to release.  He could have informed me on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at the Office of Elections Debriefing held in Hilo, Hawai'i.  I was not aware that he was investigating the County of Hawai'i and drafting a report until after a reporter contacted me today for comment.  This lack of communication on his part does not help to improve or address the significant issues that Hawai'i County and the State Office of Elections obviously need to overcome to work together in partnership to run an election.

I strongly disagree with the State Office of Elections and their assessment that there was failed leadership, poor planning and implementation by me on Primary Election Day. Yes there were errors that occurred on Primary Election Day.  However this is not a perfect system, mistakes will be made and 100% accuracy should not be expected. Mr. Nago is being overly critical and he is failing to see that the big picture goal is to get through the elections.

Further, elections require the cooperation of the state and the counties working together and not pointing fingers at each other.  I welcome any assistance that Mr. Nago can give me because I do want to do a good job in running the elections.

Note also that I held two meetings in West Hawai'i this week, including a meeting with seven (7) precinct officials in West Hawaii on 08-15-2012.  We discussed the mistakes that had occurred on Primary Election Day and the solutions that we can work toward for an improved experience for the General Election. This tells me that Hawai'i County is moving forward to doing everything that we can to have a fair and well run election for the General."

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