Categorized | Elections, Featured, News

State Office of Elections will take over Big Island election day operations

Hawaii County Elections Division office in Hilo. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Hawaii County Elections Division office in Hilo. Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

In an unprecedented move, the State Elections Office has stepped in to take over management of Hawaii County’s General Election.

With little more than one month before the election that features the presidential, mayoral and U.S. Senate races, the state office announced Tuesday it would run election day activities, effectively circumventing the county’s top election staff.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, who also oversees the county elections division, has been under scrutiny for nearly three months as she appeared to fumble the run-up to the Aug. 11 Primary Election.

State elections officials are not satisfied that Kawauchi has taken steps to avoid repeating the errors and announced Tuesday they would take over delivery and collection, control center and polling place operations for the Nov. 6 General Election.

The State Election Office statement in full:

Hawaii Chief Election Officer Scott Nago announced today that the Office of Elections will rescind its delegation of state responsibilities to the County of Hawaii.

The state office will administer election day activities such as delivery and collection, control center and polling place operations.

“We believe that this decision best ensures a successful general election in the County of Hawaii,” Nago said. “It will allow the county to focus its resources exclusively on voter registration and absentee voting.”

This move is meant to directly address the issues of polling place communication and timely delivery of supplies to polling places. Nago emphasized that the change will be transparent to Big Island voters and poll workers.

The office has located a control center and a counting center in the Hilo State Office Building. Ballot Operations Section Head Lori Tomczyk will be the State’s lead administrator. In primary election, Tomczyk provided support for state election operations in Hilo.

Nago said the move is designed to restore Big Island voter confidence and ensure a transparent process.

Although county elections divisions are mostly independent, state officials began to scrutinize Hawaii County when Kawauchi closed her Hilo office without notice to conduct an audit and later closed the Kona office.

She also went to the state Attorney General’s office after finding four or five voters may have voted twice in last election. Kawauchi suspected voter fraud, although other elections officials considered it an over-reaction.

Nago also has voiced his concerns about Kawauchi’s lack of communication with the state office.

Voter confidence was rattled in the lead up to the Primary Election and was degraded further when 13 of the island’s 40 polling places opened late. This prompted Gov. Neil Abercrombie to order all election sites on the island to be kept open an additional 90 minutes, delaying final results statewide.

At the Sept. 18 State Election Commission in Honolulu, clerks from the state’s other three counties presented their Primary Election wrap-up reports. Kawauchi, however, was absent as she already had scheduled meetings on the Big Island with precinct workers.

Although attendance was not mandatory, her absence raised further concerns that the county office may not be ready for the General Election.

Among those voicing concern have been County Councilmen Dennis ‘Fresh” Onishi and Angel Pilago, the League of Women Voters, U.S. Senate candidate Linda Lingle and Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Kawauchi was in attendance last week at a training session on Maui. Four county workers – but not Kawauchi – attended a previous training workshop on Kauai.

The county Elections Office was left in disarray when four elections workers, including the long-time administrator, were fired early this year after Kawauchi and Council Chairman Dominic Yagong – who appointed Kawauchi to the County Clerk position and is her supervisor – found irregularities at a county elections warehouse.

Pat Nakamoto, the administrator who was terminated, was reinstated after filing a grievance. However, Kawauchi placed Nakamoto on administrative leave with pay.

Nakamoto and another elections staffer then sued Kawauchi for defamation over the firings.

Last week, Kawauchi announced she had assigned Elizabeth Lehua Iopa to fill in as temporary program administrator for the elections division.

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