Categorized | Elections, Featured, News

Council accepts clerk’s report detailing Primary Election

The Hawaii County Council listens to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and Deputy Clerk Steve Lopez talk about the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

The Hawaii County Council listens to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and Deputy Clerk Steve Lopez talk about the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

After more than four hours of public testimony, a report from the County Clerk and discussion, the County Council simply closed the file at a special meeting Monday in Hilo.

The council didn’t have any actionable items on the special meeting agenda, so could not vote on motions or resolutions other than to accept a report on the Primary Election.

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong called the meeting to receive a report from County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, who as the county’s chief elections official oversaw the problem-plagued Primary Election.

Her report largely blamed the state Office of Elections, which she said did not clear up problems she identified last year — mostly involving planning, communication and listening to input — and has taken no responsibility for “serious mishaps” on election day.

She also said she was “deeply concerned” about election irregularities that might necessitate a full-blown investigation.

“As the chief elections officer for the County of Hawaii, no one can be more concerned than I am about the problems that occurred on election day,” Kawauchi said in her report.

Pointing to “unforeseen technical and operational problems, including equipment malfunction and the untimely delivery of supplies to polling places,” Kawauchi said the “mistakes and accidents” snowballed and caused polling places to open late.

“The affect that the late opening of polling places had on any single Hawaii Island voter was of tremendous concern to me,” she said.

Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi holds a press conference regarding the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi holds a press conference regarding the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

It also concerned the governor, who issued a proclamation to extend voting hours by 90 minutes on the Big Island.

Kawauchi noted she has been criticized by the state’s chief elections officer Scott Nago for not releasing information earlier, but said her review was hampered by the removal of election records from the county office by state elections officials “without my permission and consent and without prior notice.”

In a written statement addressed to the council and dated Monday, Aug. 20, Nago said the county election staff knew the state took the record books when they conducted a post-election debriefing on Tuesday, Aug. 14 in Hilo.

Nago named the staff members who helped gather the books and wrote: “…The County Clerk was personally told by me that we were taking custody of the record books. We even walked by the County Clerk on our way out with the box that her staff has provided us with the record books.”

Kawauchi’s report also contradicts Nago’s statement last week that found 13 of the county’s 40 precincts opened late. Kawauchi identified five locations that were delayed by 10 minutes or more.

She also listed four causes for the problems:

* Delayed delivery of equipment and supplies to polling places

* Voting equipment malfunction

* Failed communications with control center to establish the programming code for voting equipment

* Missing voter related information such as voting equipment pass code information that should have been packed into the precinct cans and were not.

The report concludes that voter turn-out was not significantly impacted by the late openings.

Councilmembers Angel Pilago, Chairman Dominic Yagong, Pete Hoffman listen to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi talk about the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Councilmembers Angel Pilago, Chairman Dominic Yagong, Pete Hoffman listen to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi talk about the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Immediately following her presentation and while the County Council began hearing public testimony, Kawauchi conducted a press conference in an adjacent conference room. She revealed that she had asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to consider having the lieutenant governor’s office oversee the county Office of Elections.

Later in the day, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz released a statement saying state law does not allow his office jurisdiction over the election process and “now is the time to focus on solving the problem at hand.” Abercrombie declined to comment on the issue.

During the public testimony portion of the special meeting, several elections volunteers said the day did not go smoothly.

Veteran volunteer Dan Lindsay said this was “the most fouled up election I have ever been involved with.”

He said precinct workers received incomplete materials and couldn’t contact the Hilo Elections Division via phone. When they finally did reach someone, he said, the staff was clueless, unhelpful and knew less about the process than the volunteers.

Others also were critical of the office’s organization and decisions made that day, but Kawauchi found some supporters, including one who said Nago has been ‘bullying’ the clerk and others who said she should not shoulder the blame entirely.

Deputy County Clerk Steve Kawena Lopez said he was testifying as a private citizen because Kawauchi had forbidden him from talking publicly.

He disputed Kawauchi’s comments about his performance, but added he has no background in elections, received little training in preparation and acted at the direction of the County Clerk.

Lopez also said he did not know he would running delivery and collection operations out of West Hawaii Civic Center until the morning of the election and had no specific training in proper deployment of precinct materials.

Ed Kozohara, who served as the county’s elections adminstrator 1974-2000, said he has read media accounts and remains ‘flabbergasted’ and ‘dumbfounded.’

He said there is nothing wrong with the system, the procedures or the workers. He noted things went fine in the four other counties, which operate under the same system.

Kozohara also criticized the council.

“You guys are wasting your time. You don’t know the nitty-gritty,” he said. “Your clerk only found out recently about the nitty-gritty and you are even more removed.”

He said he was most struck by three factors:

* The county’s chief election officer needs to be supported by experienced staff and was not.

* The county elections staff must work to maintain a good working relationship with the state office and did not.

* The council should have no involvement with the operations of the county Elections Division.

Kozohara reiterated that the clerk must ask for the state’s help immediately and the council must back away from any involvement.

Each of the councilmembers had an opportunity to quiz Kawauchi and called on her to explain specifics of mistakes and failures.

Most notably, Kona Councilman Angel Pilago asked whether she called the police to report the elections office had been burglarized when she first noticed missing documents the day after the election. She admitted she did not call the county police department, but did later report it to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Waimea Councilman Pete Hoffmann said training for the staff and volunteers was clearly inadequate.

Kawauchi said she followed the state protocols and if the training was lacking, it was an issue to be addressed by state elections officials.

Hoffmann also urged Kawauchi to accept any help offered from the state office, as he learned during his time in the Army that you can always use extra help.

Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto asked Kawauchi if she would accept the state’s assistance in the Nov. 6 general election but all Kawauchi would confirm was that help was needed.

Yagong said suggested a meeting between the County Clerk, state Office of Elections, state Attorney General’s Office and the lieutenant governor to hammer out the issues ahead of the General Election.

Throughout the meeting, Kawauchi mentioned various irregularities that might warrant an independent investigation. For example, how materials went missing from sealed precinct cans, why a driver got a phone call from an unidentified person telling him a road was closed and to take a different route, or why the phones were not working after Kawauchi watched staff program them the previous week.

However, councilmembers were reluctant to consider another investigation, preferring to look forward.

By the end of the meeting, councilmembers agreed more advance preparation for the November election will be needed and restoring public confidence in the election process is vital. They voted unanimously to accept Kawauchi’s report.

— For Kawauchi’s full report, visit: hawaii247.com/?p=72474

The audience listens to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi talk about the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

The audience listens to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi talk about the Primary Election. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

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