Categorized | Elections, Featured, News

Walk-in voting begins as cloud clears over county Elections Division

Election Division office in Hilo. (Hawaiii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Walk-in voting began ahead of the Primary Election and the county Elections Division has cleared a cloud of speculation about possible state and federal investigations in past practices.

For the first time in Hawaii County, all voters may vote early at one of three locations. All three will be open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. through Thursday, Aug. 9.

The three locations are:

* Hilo — Aupuni Center

* Kona — West Hawaii Civic Center

* Waimea — Waimea Community Center

Voting gets underway after a couple of weeks of public relations gaffes, concerns that the county Elections Division may not be ready and speculation mounting about a possible investigation into the division.

However, County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, who is the county’s top elections official, said during a press conference Wednesday she and her staff are putting the voters first.

“I can 100 percent guarantee we’re on track, we always have been and we are doing everything we can to make sure that our county has a fair and well-run election,” she said. “The public is the priority. We have taken steps to correct the issues that we’ve identified.”

During a review of the voter rolls, Kawauachi said she discovered some 60 people were registered to vote more than once and a handful of people appeared to have voted twice in the 2010 election.

Kawauchi, who is an attorney, said she made the decision to take her findings to the state Attorney General’s Office and stopped communicating with the state Elections Office, the media and her boss, Council Chairman Dominic Yagong. Yagong is also one of six mayoral candidates.

While no formal investigation has been announced, Kawauachi indicated the Attorney General’s Office still is reviewing the matter. No federal investigation into voter fraud is expected.


Also at Wednesday’s press conference, Kawauchi noted that while the registry review turned up irregularities, they are not expected have an impact on the Primary Election.

The irregularities did not appear to be systemic, follow a pattern or concentrated in any particular area, she said. The duplicates may be due to clerical errors and mistakes while inputting information. For example, the error might be as slight as differences an omitted “Jr.” or “Sr.” in a name.

Kawauchi also said the four or five duplicate voters were not in the same district and could not have affected the outcome of the 2010 election. She said Election Division staff are working to identify where errors occurred and how to prevent them in the future.

It is possible the double-voting also may be an error in recording votes or, for example, a voter listed as absentee actually voted on election day at a polling station.

Veteran election watchers say Kawauchi’s inexperience at overseeing elections may have led her to over-react to rather routine inaccuracies and minor problems.

Overseeing her first election, Kawauchi told the State Elections Commission at its May meeting that she had a “general understanding of election laws, administration and operations,” according to minutes of the meeting.

Kawauchi said Wednesday she takes the job ‘very seriously’ and moved cautiously to ensure ‘we cross all our T’s and dot all our I’s.’

Kawauchi came under increasing fire in recent weeks for perceived mishandling of election concerns, including being unresponsive to the media, other county departments and the state elections office.

Yellow cards

Although the Elections Division has added Leinaala Lee as the media relations specialist, some confusion arose between that office, members of the media and the island’s voters about the ‘yellow cards.’

Yellow cards essentially give pre-election notice to voters confirming their address, precinct, district and polling place.

To add to the confusion, a July 12 press conference in Hilo – during which Elections Division staff explained the voting process and changes to polling places — included only four members of the island’s media.

Kawauchi and Lee have apologized for that miscue and are taking steps to ensure all media receives all information in a timely manner.

A subsequent report in a Big Island publication erroneously indicated the Division would need re-issue yellow cards — which originally were mailed out July 16 — to all 101,728 registered voters on the Big Island.

Kawauchi said at least 5,212 yellow cards were returned to the Election Division. The reason for the return of the yellow cards included:

* Forwarding address expired
* Recipient temporarily away
* Mail is undeliverable
* Mail is to be returned to the sender because the post office is unable to forward the mail
* Mail is to be returned to the sender and the mail may be forwarded to the new address printed on the yellow card.

She said staff would make “best efforts to contact these 5,212 voters by mail, by re-sending their yellow cards to them, to their updated addresses.”

Also, new yellow cards would be sent to voters who were mis-assigned.

For example, two streets were assigned to the wrong zip code after last year’s reapportionment process, during which representative district lines were redrawn following the 2010 Census population count.

The mis-assignments affected fewer than 175 voters and they are now properly assigned, Kawauchi said.

When Kawauchi discovered what she believed to be serious issues, she conducted a thorough review that extended into Monday, July 23.

Kawauchi ordered the Elections Office in Hilo to close for the day to finish the audit. That move – which was not explained at the time – puzzled and concerned the state’s chief elections officer, island voters and media.

Kawauchi said she believed she had sent an email the evening before to chief elections officer Scott Nago and alerting him to the Monday office closure. The missed email was an ‘oversight,’ Kawauchi said.

Kawauchi and Nago, who met earlier this week, agree the issues have been ironed out and anticipate no further glitches.

On July 25, Nago sent a letter to Kawauchi, calling on her to be more transparent as the election draws close.

“The lack of communication of your office in the last few days has seriously undermined the hard work that the election community does to build the trust of the public in the integrity of the electoral system,” Nago wrote. “Given that you have concerns about the accuracy of your voter registration rolls and the assignment of voters to their proper precinct, we believe it is imperative that you discuss this matter with us so we may have a better understanding of the scope of the problem.”

He called her behavior “simply unacceptable on the part of a fellow election administrator.”

Earlier upheaval

The county Elections Office weathered upheaval earlier this year, when four elections workers were fired. Kawauchi and Yagong toured an elections warehouse and reported discovering alcohol and indications that a sign-making business was operating in the warehouse.

Among those fired was Pat Nakamoto – one of the county’s most experienced election workers.

Nakamoto filed a grievance over her termination and was re-instated. However, when Nakamoto reported to the Elections Division in mid-July, Kawauchi immediately placed her on administrative leave.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Kawauchi declined to comment on personnel matters, as is standard practice.

Still, the hiccups leading up to the Aug. 11 election have left some still a bit nervous.

Dru Kanuha, the sole candidate for County Council District 7, said his biggest concern is that the integrity and transparency of the process may be compromised in the eyes of his future constituents.

He said one constituent reported to him that she did not trust her yellow card. She was concerned she might report to the wrong polling place and her vote might not be counted.

Kanuha urged any voter with similar concerns to take advantage of the early walk-in option to ensure their vote would be counted.

“I just want to make sure people get to vote,” he said. “That’s the main thing that concerns me. It’s about trusting the process and having that transparency.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi – who is seeking re-election – said his office does not oversee the county Elections Division and has nothing to do with how it operates.

Kenoi noted the Elections Division is the responsibility of the county clerk, who is appointed by the council chairman.

In the wake of the controversy, former governor and current candidate for U.S. Senate Linda Lingle urged the state Legislature consider changing the power structure for election officials.

“This idea that you have four independent county clerks not really reporting to anyone and now the head of our office of elections not able to even communicate with one of the clerks is a real problem,” Lingle said.

Voters who still have questions or concerns, may call the Elections Division Office at 961-8277 in Hilo or 323-4400 in Kona.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.