Embattled Chief Election Officer Scott Nago keeps his job

Embattled Chief Election Officer Scott Nago keeps his job

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Elections Commission announced Friday that Chief Election Officer Scott Nago will keep his job and face no discipline after ballot shortages that affected 17 percent of Oahu's polling places during the Nov. 6 election.

Commissioners emerged from an hour and a half closed-door executive session at midday Friday and said would retain his job, in spite of calls by some people for him to be fired.

"We felt there was a series of mistakes certainly, but none of them rose to the level where he would be dismissed because of those.  And there's some things that have to be fixed.  And they will be," said William Marston, chairman of the commission.

Two election commissioners, Danny Young and Zale Okazaki, conducted an investigation of the voting problems with no budget, staff or consultants to help them and they issued no written report.

"There were several operational procedures that were either causing an error or just were incorrect," Young told reporters after giving a brief overview of the commission's probe at its January meeting in the State Office Tower on Beretania Street.

The first major problem, Young said, was that election officials miscalculated how many ballots were needed in the field, causing 24 Oahu polling places to run out of ballots, leading to long lines and delays on Election Day in November.

Another problem: Nago dispatched state Ballot Operations Section Head Lori Tomczyk from Oahu to the Big Island to run elections there after major problems during the primary.

"The subordinate she left back wasn't trained well enough to know what the balloting was about," Young said.

After the election, Nago asked Tomczyk to resign and she did. Tomczyk is now working for Big Island State Sen. Malama Solomon in the state legislature. Tomczyk refused to be interviewed for the Election Commission's investigation, Young said.

Election commissioners said they want managerial improvements like written standard operating procedures, which were lacking, Young said.

"We've identified the problem, we've figured out what we can do so we don't repeat that problem. It's just a matter of executing and I think executing is not an issue that we will have in the future," Nago told reporters after the meeting.

Maui County Clerk Jeff Kuwada said Nago should not have been fired because his office was short-staffed, with two vacancies out of 30 and that key staffer – Tomczyk -- sent to Hilo.

"He's got a skeleton crew.  He was doing two jobs.  He was chief elections officer and counting center operations division chief," Kuwada said. "He had to divert staff from Oahu to the Big Island to operate elections on the Big Island.  And ultimately, I think that played a large role in what happened in Oahu."

Asked why the commission did not produce a written report, Young said, "We didn't know what to expect, so we didn't come out with a format that said question one, question two, question three.  We just wanted to make everybody comfortable and interview them one at a time and be official about it, but, no, we didn't have anything written."

Marston said, "We have in Scott a capable person in 13 years with the office of elections has dealt with many elections before this and has done it successfully so.  This was a series of mistakes.  It was almost like a perfect storm."

Nago, 39, began work at the state election office in 1998 and became chief election officer in 2010.

Asked how he dealt with the investigation and uncertainty for more than two months since the election, Nago said, "It has been a long process but it's not something unexpected. It is what it is, we had to go through it, and we did."

"Accountability in the office needs to change.  And we've already started it. It's just those kinds of things.  There won't be a single point of failure.  Those kinds of things," Nago added.

"Scott has learned a lot from this.  I think there were some things that happened along the way that certainly would not be repeated again," Marston said.

At the direction of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the state Attorney General's office has conducted its own investigation of the balloting problems.

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