The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii has asked the state’s top court to allow voters affected by Tropical Storm Iselle to cast ballots in the primary election. The ACLU filed the challenge in state Supreme Court on Thursday. The lawsuit against Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago and others says voters on Hawaii Island were disenfranchised because they couldn’t get to the polls due to storm damage. Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall on Hawaii’s Big Island less than 48 hours before election day. Two precincts in the badly damaged Puna region were closed, and voters were told they would be mailed ballots. But then Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago changed course and scheduled a makeup primary for a week after the original election date, leaving some voters confused about the logistics of voting.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s arrival on the Big Island on Wednesday to address the fallout from Tropical Storm Iselle added a layer of normalcy to what so far has been surreal political theater. Many roads in the rural Puna district on the east side of the island are still closed due to fallen trees and powerlines, and thousands of people are without basic necessities, such as food, ice and running water. The governor has broad executive power to mobilize resources and spend money to help recovery efforts in some of the hardest hit communities here, a few of which could be without power for several weeks. But Abercrombie has no control over a controversial decision to hold a special election here on Friday that will decide the Senate Democratic primary race between Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
A measure taking aim at Hawaii’s worst-in-the-nation voter turnout is now law. Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed a bill making Hawaii the 12th state in the country where late registration could be done on the day voters head to the polls. But same-day voting registration won’t begin until the 2018 elections to give state election officials time to phase in the program. “Hopefully, this will improve voter turnout and as I say, the delayed implementation gives the county clerks and the Office of Elections time to make sure it’s implemented accurately,” Abercrombie said.
Editorials: Will Same-Day Voter Registration Law Fix Hawaii’s Poor Voter Turnout? | Honolulu Magazine
On June 30, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed legislation into law that will eventually allow same-day voter registration, first at absentee polling places beginning in 2016, and at all precinct polling places on Election Day starting in 2018. Lawmakers hope the adoption of HB 2590 will improve Hawaii’s abysmal voter turnout. Allowing same-day registration in other states, including Connecticut and Colorado, has boosted voter turnout. Other studies have shown election-day registration can increase turnout between 7 and 14 percentage points. Hawaii has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation, with just 44 percent of eligible voters actually casting ballots in last year’s presidential election, even when local boy Barack Obama was on the ballot.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) is likely to sign legislation allowing eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day after the legislature passed the measure by a wide margin. Anyone eligible to cast a ballot would be able to register on Election Day at early voting sites beginning in 2016, or at regular polling places starting in 2018. Scott Nago, the state’s chief elections officer, supported the bill in written testimony before the legislature. Abercrombie has not said whether he will sign the bill, but Democrats expect him to do so. Elections officials and Democrats who backed the bill said they hoped it would boost turnout in a state with the lowest participation rates in the country.
Honolulu has declined to collaborate with the state on its new online voter registration system. Since the city is already managing the state ID system and processing state driver’s licenses — key databases for verifying voter identification — state officials were hoping the city might be inclined to help implement the new registration system, too. No luck. The state Office of Elections is going to have to find a way to get the new system up and running on its own. The office has until the 2016 primary election to do so, as mandated by a law Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed in 2012. Scott Nago, Hawaii elections chief, told lawmakers in April that he asked the city to enter into a memorandum of agreement to work with his office to ensure that the new online system is ready in time. The city, he lamented, has “other commitments” that prevent it from helping.
In a federal lawsuit, the Democratic Party of Hawaii claims the state’s primary election law is unconstitutional. Hawaii’s primary system that allows every registered voter to participate in the party’s nomination process is tantamount to forced political association, in violation of the First Amendment, according to the lawsuit filed Monday. The party prefers a primary that allows distinguishing voters by political orientation. The law prevents the party “from exerting any control over who may participate in the nomination of its candidates,” the lawsuit states, resulting in the “active, earnest and faithful” party members being “substantially outnumbered in their own nomination process, by persons unknown to (the party).”
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) chose Hawaii Lieutenant Gov. Brian Schatz (D) to fill the seat left open by the death of longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), deciding against Inouye’s deathbed wish that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) succeed him. The move comes as a surprise — most expected Abercrombie to honor Inouye’s wish, delivered in a letter to the governor on the day of his death earlier this month. Abercrombie chose Schatz over Hanabusa and former congressional candidate Esther Kia’aina (D), the options presented to him by the state Democratic committee.
Voters can expect a mad scramble to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa if she is appointed to replace U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. About half a dozen names are already being floated as potential candidates for the District 1 Congressional seat if Hanabusa vacates her house post, political analysts say. “This is a sprint. It’s not a long distance run. It’s going to be a short election span,” said Hawaii Pacific University Professor John Hart. “So the person who can put the boots on the ground and the checks in the mail … those are the people who can compete in this situation.”
The state has seized control of elections on the Big Island due in the wake of voting delays that plagued the county’s primary vote. State elections officials said they have “no confidence” in County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and made the move to avoid problems in the November general election. “They didn’t feel we could run a successful general election in the County of Hawaii if we continued on this current path,” said State Chief Election Officer Scott Nago. “This has never been done before.” Nago said meetings last month with Kawauchi and elections workers convinced him that the county clerk hasn’t done enough to solve the voting delays that marred the August primary. On the primary election night, Gov. Neil Abercrombie kept Big Island polls open an hour-and-a-half later after Kawauchi told state officials that 25 of 40 polling stations did not open on time.
Members of the State Elections Commission expressed frustration with troubled Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi at their monthly meeting Tuesday as state elections officials made plans to send a key staffer back to the Big Island to help troubleshoot on Election Day. During the primary election Aug. 11, more than dozen Hawaii County polling places opened late, causing Gov. Neil Abercrombie to order all election sites on the island to be kept open an hour and a half late, delaying election returns statewide. Tuesday, the county clerks from three counties were present at the election commission meeting, but Kawauchi was absent, just as she was missing from the August meeting. Her attendance there was not mandatory but in the cooperative community of election officials, her absence created concern less than two months before the general election.
The Big Island became the epicenter of primary election day fiascos when the delayed opening of numerous polling places forced Gov. Neil Abercrombie to issue an emergency proclamation authorizing them to stay open for an extra 90 minutes. But that was just the latest snafu in a series of problems that all trace back to Jamae Kawauchi, the Hawaii County clerk who has been on the job since 2010. The incidents have raised doubts about whether she’ll stay on board for the general election. The state Office of Elections on Thursday released a scathing report faulting Kawauchi for her mismanagement. Rex Quidilla, state elections spokesperson, said the problems occurred because of a failure in leadership training and an unwillingness to ask for help. “We at every turn provided offered our assistance,” he said. “We were met with reassurances that that wouldn’t be necessary.” Meanwhile, and in the aftermath of the report, Kawauchi has gone on the offensive.