By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi has agreed to let the state run the Nov. 6 general election on the Big Island, though how that will work still needs to be determined.
Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago announced Tuesday that the state Office of Elections will run the counting and control centers in Hilo on Election Day, effectively relieving the county of the responsibility for managing election operations, due to ongoing concerns over the county’s readiness.
Kawauchi said the state will also handle delivery of election items, a main issue during the Aug. 11 primary when 13 of the 40 polling places opened late.
The county isn’t completely out of the picture, and will still have to assist the state with running the show, she said.
How that is going to happen was still uncertain after Kawauchi met with Nago on Thursday in Honolulu.
The clerk, who oversees the county’s elections division, said she has been delegated responsibility for developing a plan for Election Day, which she intends to have finished early next week.
“I’m proceeding cautiously so that we don’t have any further Election Day problems,” she said.
Kawauchi, who was making adjustments after the problematic primary, said she wasn’t expecting the state to take control of the election process here. She said she is “concerned” about it occurring a month before the general election.
“Was the county ready to handle the general? Yes, we were,” she said.
“Do I feel we would have been adequately staffed and prepared to handle the general? Yes, I do.”
Nago and elections spokesman Rex Quidilla didn’t return multiple requests for comment Friday.
In his press release, Nago said the move will “allow the county to focus its resources exclusively on voter registration and absentee voting.”
Kawauchi acknowledged that the state had asked her for an “action plan” on changes being made to ensure a smooth general election.
She missed the Sept. 27 deadline, which apparently prompted the state to take action.
Kawauchi said the deadline notification was sent to her in an email, which she didn’t see.
“I was aware they wanted something from me,” she said. “I didn’t see the deadline. It’s my fault.”
Kawauchi said the state has agreed to implement some of her proposed changes, including hiring more “troubleshooters” to assist precincts and provide additional training.
The clerk has also recently made staffing changes, including appointing her third elections program administrator of the year.
She has declined to comment on those changes on legal advice from the county’s corporation counsel.
Four of her seven permanent election workers called in sick during the primary, but she has said she doesn’t believe staffing shortages contributed to the election problems.
Asked if she felt they called in sick to protest the firing of four elections workers in January, Kawauchi said, “No comment.”
The state’s action comes after hearings calls for its intervention for months as well as, more recently, an investigation into the county’s primary mishaps.
On Wednesday, the County Council also went on record in support of an investigation. It unanimously passed a resolution endorsing a statement from the state League of Women Voters calling for the state elections office to investigate, among other actions, including the appointment of election observers.
The clerk said voters should not notice anything different for Election Day. The process for submitting absentee ballots, early walk-in voting and registering to vote remain the same.
The last day to register is Monday.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.