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Big Isle clerk calls for elections review

System that’s in place now works well for other counties, chief says

August 21, 2012
By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER , The Associated Press

HONOLULU - Under fire for primary election poll opening delays, Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi fired back again by asking the governor for an independent review of the state elections office.

Kawauchi also said Monday in an eight-page memo to the county council that she has written a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie asking him to consider having the lieutenant governor's office oversee the elections office for the November general election.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz responded by saying the law doesn't give his office jurisdiction or control over the election process. "Now is not the time for blame-shifting," he said in a statement. "Now is the time to focus on solving the problem at hand."

It's time to focus on making sure the Nov. 6 general election "comes off without a hitch statewide," Schatz said, "with particular focus on Hawaii County."

After a scathing state elections report last week blasting her leadership, Kawauchi continued to apologize for the delays, which led to the governor issuing an unusual proclamation to keep Big Island polls open 90 minutes later, but also insisted she's not the only one to blame.

"It is my sense that although the state of Hawaii Office of Elections has taken no responsibility for the serious mishaps that occurred on primary election day," the election day missteps are related to "significant issues" with the office that date back to September 2011, she wrote.

She said her previous criticisms about the office include planning, organization and communication with

staff. She also said the office has issues with "acceptance of suggestions for improvement."

Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said any previous concerns were never made "directly to us."

"The system that's in place now worked well with three other counties," he said, noting that other counties haven't experienced the same problems as Hawaii County. "Our report speaks for itself."

The report criticized her for "poor planning, implementation and leadership." The elections office said that it conducted an investigation into Big Island polls opening late on primary election day because she didn't have a "handle on how many polling places out of 40 in the county opened late." There were 13, the report concluded.

"I have been harshly criticized by the state of Hawaii chief elections officer for not releasing information earlier but my review has been hampered by the removal of election records from the county of Hawaii by the state of Hawaii Office of Elections without my permission and consent and without prior notice," she wrote. "Without the election record books, it has been difficult for me to determine the exact opening time of polling places on Hawaii island."

Her staff helped pack up the state property record books on Tuesday, Nago said, adding that Kawauchi had two days after the primary to review them. "I don't think she knew what a record book was, let alone what to do with a record book," he said.

The county council discussed the issue at a special meeting Monday.

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said Kawauchi gave a report on what took place. He said human error is one factor, specifically people delivering election materials and equipment to the wrong precincts or forgetting to deliver those materials.

He said he would schedule a meeting between the governor's office, the state elections office, and the county clerk's office.

"Obviously there is some strained relationship between the county clerk's office and the state election's office. And that of course means there's no way we can move forward without getting beyond that," he said.

 
 
 

 

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