Election officials clear air


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

After a few rounds of finger-pointing and blunt criticism, the head of state elections and County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi appear ready to make up.

The two have agreed to a series of workshops with elections officials from each county with the goal of helping Hawaii County overcome its failures during the primary two weeks ago and transition to a smooth general election in November. No dates have been set, though Kawauchi has suggested sometime between Sept. 17-21.

State Chief Election Officer Scott Nago extended the olive branch in an email sent to Kawauchi on Thursday, in which he proposed the workshops and made an appeal for a more affable relationship.

“In the last couple of weeks, we have publicly expressed our difference of opinions on the implementation of the 2012 Primary Election in the County of Hawaii,” Nago wrote.

“… As we proceed toward the general election, I propose we commit to rebuild the partnership between our offices to pursue the implementation of a secure, open and honest general election for the voters.”

Kawauchi responded the same day and agreed to the workshops. She also noted the county plans to hold a meeting with elections staff and volunteers to discuss the problems that occurred on primary election day, Aug. 11, which saw more than a dozen polling places open late.

Following the election, Nago and Kawauchi exchanged blows as their offices responded to the primary day mishaps.

Nago criticized the clerk for not being able to provide details regarding the delayed voting and issued a scathing report in which he referred to her “poor planning, implementation and failed leadership.”

Kawauchi countered with a request that the Lieutenant Governor’s Office take over the elections process and accusations that the state Office of Elections, which Nago oversees, may have taken election documents from her office.

But for now the hatchet appears to be buried.

County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said that’s in the best interest of Big Island voters.

“With all sincerity, Nago and Jamae totally agree 1,000 percent that we need to go forward … with one focus,” he said. “That focus is on having a secure and fair election.”

Yagong on Monday requested a meeting with Nago, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, and other state officials to discuss the primary election day problems.

Schatz denied the request, noting that the issues need to be worked out between the Office of Elections and Hawaii County, he said.

Kawauchi was in Honolulu on Friday meeting with the state Office of Elections and the state Attorney General’s Office.

Yagong said it’s the county’s goal to have its “fact finding” regarding the primary election done by Sept. 15.

That will include an analysis of training and staffing levels.

“The whole idea is to get everyone together and be able to talk about what took place on primary election night,” Yagong said.

Any requests for additional help from the state may come after that, he said.

On Wednesday, Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi attended the state Elections Commission meeting in Honolulu and requested the state provide more help for the county’s Elections Division, which Kawauchi oversees.

The state sent one staff member during the Aug. 11 primary to oversee the counting center.

Anymore help than that may be difficult, Onishi said he was told, since that would require diverting resources from elsewhere.

At the meeting, the county clerks from Maui, Honolulu and Kauai counties each provided a presentation on how their election went.

Kawauchi did not attend, and her absence was noted, Onishi said.

“Some commissioners indicated a little bit of disappointment,” he said.

“I guess she submitted her report to them but she wasn’t there … to explain it or there for them to question her.”

Onishi told Civil Beat after the meeting that he planned to draft a resolution urging Kawauchi to seek help from the state.

He said Friday he is no longer considering a resolution.

“I have some confidence in her that she will try to mend things with Scott, Mr. Nago,” Onishi said.

“Let’s see if this works out.

“It this works out, fine. If it doesn’t, then I’ll bring up that resolution.”

Onishi said he attended the meeting as a private citizen.

Kawauchi didn’t return a request for comment.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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