Hawaii council chair defends himself against ethics complaint

Published: Sep. 3, 2012 at 7:33 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 4, 2012 at 11:55 AM HST
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HILO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) -- Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong denied he was near any sensitive election material after someone complained he was inappropriately in a secured election area last week at the clerk's office in Hilo.

Yagong's daughter Chelsea is running for county council on the Big Island. Yagong is stepping down from the council at the end of the year because of term limits.  He ran for Hawaii County mayor and was eliminated from the race in the Aug. 11 primary when he came in third behind incumbent Mayor Billy Kenoi and former Mayor Harry Kim.

Last Thursday someone reported Yagong was seen in the elections division of the Hawaii county clerk's office in Hilo in a sensitive area.

State elections rules bar candidates' relatives from working as precinct officials at polling places. State elections officials have forwarded a complaint to the Hawaii County Board of Ethics about the incident.

"The place where I'm assuming I was supposedly seen, that section does not have the voting machines, voting ballots," Yagong told Hawaii News Now.

Yagong said he was helping to inventory election supply boxes that do not contain ballots or other sensitive material.

He said he and county clerk's staffers were checking to see how many cell phones, rolls of masking tape, checklists and other supplies were in the boxes to prepare for Election Day on Nov. 6.

Yagong said ballots and voting machines are kept under lock and key in the clerk's office basement known as the "dungeon."  The only person who has the key to the basement storage area is Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, he said.

"I haven't even been down there, I don't even know what it looks like," Yagong said. "The only time I've been into the secured area of the elections office was to pull and file elections papers in the mayor's race."

Asked why he was helping staff with inventory work, Yagong said, "Obviously we weren't very happy with the results of the primary election, and I think we're all cognizant in making sure that we help support the staff in any which way we can to ensure that we have a smooth and fair election."

About one dozen polling places in Hawaii County opened late on primary election day.  Voters had to wait as long as 90 minutes at several polling places for county officials to locate or take key voting supplies to those locations.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie ordered all 40 polling places on the Big Island to remain open for an extra hour and a half because of the problems.

To read the full complaint, click here.

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