By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are pushing to reform the state elections process after a series of mishaps caused polling places to run out of ballots and open late last year.
House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson wants to give the chief elections officer the power to supervise inexperienced county clerks. Jamae Kawauchi, who was Hawaii County’s clerk, was criticized when 13 of the 40 Big Island’s polling places opened late for last year’s primary election. She hadn’t run an election before.
Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state elections office, said the relationship between the state office and the counties has historically been good and that last year was a “glaring exception.”
Johanson’s bill also would require the chief elections officer to use a checklist when preparing for the election. The proposal is a common-sense way of making sure new elections officials aren’t caught unaware, he said.
The Republican said he expects the bill to be well-received in the House.
“You don’t need to go too far to find someone who had an issue in this past election process,” he said. “Almost everyone’s constituents experienced some level of frustration.”
Rep. Sharon Har is pushing to get rid of the state office of elections and the elections commission altogether. The Democrat says their responsibilities should be transferred to the lieutenant governor.
Har also introduced a bill that would make the elections commission more tightly supervise the chief elections officer. The commission currently holds public hearings, investigates violations and is responsible for hiring and firing the chief elections officer.
On Friday, the elections commission decided to keep Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago in his job despite the blunders last Election Day.
The commission deliberated whether Nago should be fired over ballot shortages at Oahu polling places last Election Day.
Commissioners said Friday a series of mistakes led to the shortages but Nago wasn’t the only person to blame for the problem.
Chairman William Marston says there are some things that need to be fixed, but they will be.
Nago previously said his office used an incorrect formula to determine the number of ballots needed at polling places. He said check and balances to insure the proper formula was used had failed.
He won’t be disciplined but commissioners will work with him to make management and procedural improvements.
Other initiatives introduced include allowing voters to register on Election Day and automatic voter registration when people reapply for a driver’s license.
Rep. Kaniela Ing, a Democrat from Maui, says allowing voters to register on Election Day would help improve youth voter turnout. But Quidilla said the change could pose technical difficulties for the elections office.
“We’ve always struggled to try to recruit poll workers,” he said, noting that same-day voter registration would require additional staffing and training.