A lawmaker from Hawaii’s Big Island wants to hold Hawaii’s Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago accountable for voting problems that she says denied residents of her district the right to vote. Tropical Storm Iselle hit Hawaii’s Big Island a few days before Hawaii’s primary election last year, felling hundreds of trees and knocking out power to thousands of residents. Voting was postponed in two precincts. But some residents in the precincts where the polls were open had blocked driveways or were too busy struggling without power or water to vote. A makeup election was called, but many Puna residents weren’t sure who could participate, and the instructions were changed with just a few days’ notice, said Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, a Big Island Democrat.
Election officials are preparing for the possibility that the Puna lava flow could potentially disrupt voting in next month’s general election. Hawaii’s election chief outlined plans at a state Elections Commission meeting on Friday, but some critics fear a repeat of problems that happened during the primary due to Tropical Storm Iselle. “Please prevent another man-made disaster caused by the Elections Office,” said State Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna, Kau). He recommended mail-in ballots only for next month’s election for precincts in lower Puna that could be affected by the lava. “We do not know at this time which precincts will be accessible, which neighborhoods will be accessible,” said Ruderman.
Hawaii County and state election workers are preparing for the possibility that voting could again be disrupted in lower Puna as a lava flow continues to advance toward populated areas. Election officials say they identified 7,542 voters in three precincts from Ainaloa to Kalapana who could have difficulty voting during the Nov. 4 General Election should the June 27 lava flow continue its long march to the sea. They are essentially the same voters, minus the precinct covering Hawaiian Paradise Park, who had voting disrupted during the Aug. 9 primary because of damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.
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.
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.
Hawaii lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that will allow voters to register at polling places on the same day they vote. The measure (HB 2590) aims to encourage voting in a state where turnout is often dismal. Once the nation’s highest, Hawaii’s voter turnout cratered at 44.5 percent, the nation’s lowest, in the 2012 election, according to the U.S. Elections Project. The House and Senate passed the bill that will allow voters to register at early voting sites beginning in 2016 or at their assigned polling places on Election Day starting in 2018.
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.
Political candidates will shake hands, kiss keiki and sign-wave like crazy during election season — anything to get elected. Under proposed legislation, one thing they would not be allowed to do is touch a voter’s ballot. Senate Bill 827 would prohibit candidates from physically handling or possessing absentee ballots and voter registration forms. It seems to be another piece of legislation related to allegations of voter intimidation in the 2012 primary. SB 827 brings to mind House Bill 1027, which aims to ensure the integrity of absentee ballots. That measure would require that absentee ballots include information about election and voter fraud, and prohibit employers, unions and candidates “or their agents” from assisting voters in completing absentee ballots.
The state Elections Commission announced Friday that Chief Election Officer Scott Nago will keep his job and face no discipline after ballot shortages that affected 17 percent of Oahu’s polling places during the Nov. 6 election. Commissioners emerged from an hour and a half closed-door executive session at midday Friday and said would retain his job, in spite of calls by some people for him to be fired. “We felt there was a series of mistakes certainly, but none of them rose to the level where he would be dismissed because of those. And there’s some things that have to be fixed. And they will be,” said William Marston, chairman of the commission.
The state Elections Commission Tuesday decided to appoint a subcommittee to investigate ballot problems on Oahu during the Nov. 6 election, following testimony from some members of the public who called for Chief Election Officer Scott Nago to be fired. The panel did not take steps to punish or terminate Nago after meeting for more than an hour behind closed doors to talk about his response to the problems on Election Day. Nago told the commission said the state had enough reserve ballots but his staff was not able to deliver them to 17 percent of Oahu’s polling places during the general election, causing them to run out of ballots, resulting in long lines and delays.
Lori Tomczyk, a long-time state election section chief, is taking the fall for Oahu’s ballot shortages on Election Day, and resigned at her boss’ request earlier this month, sources told Hawaii News Now Monday. During the general election on Nov. 6, 24 Oahu polling places ran out of paper ballots, causing long lines of voters and delaying the first printout of election results by two hours. Tomczyk is the ballot operations section head, who is in charge of distribution and collection of ballots statewide.
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.
State elections officials say they will take back oversight of Election Day voting on the Big Island because problems relating to the Aug. 11 primary have not been adequately addressed. Hawaii Chief of Elections Scott Nago said Tuesday he is rescinding state elections responsibilities that had been delegated to Big Island clerk Jamae Kawauchi. A small group of staff members hired by the state will take over Big Island Election Day activities, according to state elections spokesman Rex Quidilla. One of them is Lori Tomczyk, the office’s Oahu-based ballot operations section head who helped out with state elections operations in Hilo on the day of the primary. Tomczyk, who has been on the job since 2000, will be filling in as lead administrator. “We’re injecting our supervision and expertise,” said Quidilla, adding that little would actually be changing in terms of personnel. “This is something we see being done only under these current circumstances. With a great deal of hand-wringing did we come to this point. We certainly hope that this isn’t something that has to be done in the future.”
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 Hawaii State League of Women Voters (LWVHI) is asking state and county elections officials to take definitive action on the primary election day mishaps that transpired on the Big Island. The blunders — including the delayed opening of 13 Hawaii County polling places — have been attributed to the poor management by Big Island elections clerk Jamae Kawauchi. “This year, we have been troubled by a number of serious issues on the island of Hawai‘i which cumulatively may have diminished voters’ confidence in the Hawai‘i County Elections Office,” reads the LWVHI press release. “We are concerned about an apparent lack of communication and transparency from the County Clerk with the press and public. Press conferences may have explained prior actions, but the time lag between actions and explanations fostered an air of mistrust.
“If you don’t know the game of basketball and you’re going to run a tournament, good luck.” Those were the words of Hawaii County Council Member Dennis Onishi, who spoke before the state Elections Commission at a routine meeting Wednesday. He was alluding to primary election day fiascos on the Big Island that culminated in the delayed opening of 13 polling places. State elections officials blamed the mishaps on Hawaii County clerk Jamae Kawauchi. She’s been on the job since 2010, but this is her first election. Everyone at the meeting — commissioners, election officials, other county clerks — agreed that Kawauchi’s inexperience in running elections fueled the problems. Yet Kawauchi was the only county clerk not in attendance Wednesday. Those who testified before the commission, including Onishi, suggested that state elections officials ought to send an expert to Kawauchi’s office who can facilitate election-day preparation and implementation. Onishi estimated that only one employee currently working in Hawaii County’s Elections Office has run an election before. But commissioners and state elections chief Scott Nago emphasized that they can’t force that on Kawauchi. She herself must be the one who seeks assistance, said Nago.
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.
The state Office of Elections issued its report Thursday concerning how the County of Hawaii handled the Primary Election. In a six-page report, Scott Nago, head of the state election’s office, ripped into Jamae Kawauchi, who as County Clerk also serves as the Hawaii County election chief. Nago said he sent a state staff member to observe the election at the Hilo county building and found ” poor planning, implementation, and leadership by the County Clerk.” Nago, however, praised county staff and volunteers who “did their best under the circumstances and were able to get through the election.” He said while the public’s confidence had been undermine, but the problems did not meet the standards used to determine whether final results might have been impacted.
In a scathing six-page report, the state Office of Elections criticized Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi after several problems at Big Island polling places during Saturday’s primary election. In the report, state elections chief Scott Nago said his staff witnessed “poor planning, implementation and leadership by the County Clerk. Essentially, the County Clerk on election day is supposed to be like a field general with a plan of attack, who acts confidently, and has the support of his or her troops,” the report said. “The County Clerk was in no way, shape, or form that type of leader.” The report also slammed Kawauchi for not knowing how many polls opened late on the Big Island. “Specifically, the County Clerk at no specific time had a handle on how many polling places out of the forty in the county opened late.”
Hawaii: Election Officials Conducting Own Investigation into Big Island Election Issues | Big Island Now
A meeting Tuesday with Big Island County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi about Saturday’s election problems did not provide enough answers for state election officials who are now conducting their own investigation. Chief Election Officer Scott Nago met Tuesday in Hilo with all of the state’s county clerks and most of the counties’ chief election administrators. State elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said today that such a meeting is typically done after an election to review procedures and problems. While Big Island County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi attended, Hawai`i County’s interim elections administrator, Arlene Boteilho did not. According to Quidilla, Kawauchi did not give a reason why. Boteilho reportedly went out on sick leave before Saturday’s primary election. She had been named the temporary replacement for Pat Nakamato, the county’s longtime elections administrator who was fired early this year. Nakamoto was reinstated to her job following a union grievance procedure but was placed by Kawauchi on paid administrative leave immediately upon her return in late July.
County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi told reporters today that a review of the Big Island’s voter registry turned up irregularities, but nothing that should have an impact on the upcoming primary election. Kawauchi said the review conducted from July 21-23, which included a weekend, found 50 to 60 people registered more than once, as well as five people who voted twice in the 2010 election. She said the irregularities did not appear to be “systemic” or concentrated in any particular area. She said the duplicates could be attributed to clerical errors, such as incorrect data being inputted. Some also involved slight differences in names, such as a missing “Jr.” or “Sr.” The duplicate registrations are being corrected and the voters who voted twice two years ago will be contacted to determine how that occurred, Kawauchi said. None of the duplicated votes occurred at the same precinct, she said.
The FBI has gotten involved in an investigation into allegations of voter fraud on the Big Island, sources told Hawaii News Now Friday. The elections office in Hilo run by Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi shut down Monday for what she called an “audit” less than three weeks before the primary election, without further explanation. That raised concern among politicians and other elections officials in the state, especially since for the last five days, Kawauchi has not returned State Elections Officer Scott Nago’s calls to brief him on problems in her office. About one week ago, state officials received reports about possible voter fraud on the Big Island, allegations that someone was doctoring absentee ballots, sources said. State officials then notified FBI agents, members of the public corruption team based at the FBI’s Honolulu office, sources said. It’s unclear whether the FBI will launch its own voter fraud investigation.
A possible voter fraud case on the Big Island is the subject of an investigation, a law enforcement source told Hawaii News Now Thursday. The probe focuses on allegations that some absentee ballots were improperly “doctored,” the source said. A second source, a state government employee, said Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi spent much of Thursday afternoon meeting with a lawyer at the state Attorney General’s office in Honolulu. Further details about the allegations or about what she spent hours meeting with a deputy attorney general about were not available Thursday night. With just 15 days to go until the primary election, Hawaii County election officials are re-sending some voter registration notices after a first batch was sent with wrong information. The state’s chief election officer, Scott Nago, is worried the mix-up could prompt candidates to challenge election outcomes and upset that county clerk has not briefed him on what’s happening since she closed her office for an audit on Monday.
In an unprecedented move, the State’s Chief Election Officer has weighed in on controversy surrounding the Hawaii County Elections office. Scott Nago, Chief Elections Officer for the State, sent a letter to Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi Wednesday afternoon. He said his office has been fielding calls as to what is going on in Hawaii County. He said Kawauchi’s decision to close the elections office on July 23 and her failure to thoroughly communicate to the other election offices and the media as to the reasons for the closure has unnecessarily lead to significant speculation in the public about the integrity of the elections. He went on to say, “This is simply unacceptable on the part of a fellow election administrator. The public relies on us to be assured that their elections are safe and secure.” Nago’s letter goes on, “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.” He says a written request sent by the State Elections Office to Kawauchi on July 23 asking for information has gone unanswered.