Categorized | Elections, News

Absentee ballots to be accepted in Kona (Aug. 9 & 11)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

In a third change, Big Island voters may now drop off their absentee ballots at West Hawaii Civic Center.

In addition to mailing ballots, delivering them to Hilo or turning them in to a polling place on election day, the Kona early walk-in voting site will accept absentee ballots on Thursday.

The West Hawaii Civic Center site also will serve as a polling place for the Primary Election on Saturday, so absentee ballots will be accepted then, too.

While absentee ballots were being accepted last week at the Elections Office in Kona, that office was closed Monday and part of Tuesday. It has opened again, staffed by Deputy County Clerk Steve Kawena Lopez, but he is not accepting ballots.

Voters will need to walk them over the Building G, the early walk-in voting location.

It is not clear whether absentee ballots will be accepted at the Kona Elections Office on Friday, as walk-in voting ends Thursday.

The latest change was confirmed Wednesday evening by Council Chairman Dominic Yagong.

Yagong, also a candidate for mayor, said more than 12,500 of the 20,000 absentee ballots issued to Big Island voters have been completed and turned in.

Until this week, the West Hawaii office was staffed by a temporary employee – one of at least 10 hired specifically to help facilitate the election.

However, when County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi discovered only a handful of absentee ballots were turned in to the West Hawaii office, she opted to eliminate that position and add an extra person to the Hilo office.

That left thousands of voters with little time to either mail in the ballot or hand-deliver it to Hilo. The other option was to turn it into a polling place on election day.

While other counties across the state routinely allow absentee ballots to be dropped off at early walk-in locations and any election office, Kawauchi decided that was not an option.

The county Elections Division, which is overseen by the county clerk who is appointed by the council chairman, has been under added scrutiny for the last three weeks, as residents, members of the media, county officials and state officials were largely left in the dark as to what decisions Kawauchi was making and why she was making them.

Among miscues: Hosting a press conference July 12 and only inviting four members of the media without making that information immediately available to other media; losing the Hilo Elections Office on July 23 without warning; failing to communicate with the state Elections Office; failing to communicate with the media; eliminating the sole clerk staff position at the Kona Elections Office and leaving the office open and unattended all day Monday, Aug. 6; and making several changes to absentee voting procedures without issuing a public statement.

At one point late last month, the state election’s chief wrote to Kawauchi asking her to open communications between the county office and the state office. Members of the Big Island media have been asking the same thing.

On Monday, Kawauchi said there would be no absentee ballots drop-offs allowed in West Hawaii all week. On Tuesday, she apparently changed that directive, but has yet to issue an official announcement explaining the reversal.

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