Even counting the County Clerk’s Office staff pulled from across the hall to help out during the contentious 2012 election, it still cost less to run that election than the two elections prior.
That’s the finding of an outside auditor the County Council hired last year to compare the election costs.
The audit, scheduled to be discussed Tuesday by the council Finance Committee, found that the 2012 election cost $1.5 million, compared to $1.8 million for the 2008 election, the most recent other presidential election. In 2010, when fewer voters came to the polls, the election also cost $1.5 million.
The cost per ballot cast was $17 in 2008, $16.19 in 2010 and $14.40 in 2012, the audit found.
The 2012 election proceedings became a hot political issue when former County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi fired the division chief and three other elections staff after alleging the former warehouse manager used the site to conduct his own sign-making and screen-printing business, and stored alcohol and held post-election drinking parties there.
That escalated into union grievance procedures reinstating the workers and defamation lawsuits against Kawauchi and former Council Chairman Dominic Yagong. The lawsuits were dismissed by a 3rd Circuit Court judge, but the case has been appealed.
Kawauchi had a hard time managing a disgruntled staff, several of whom resisted her management and failed to show up on primary election day. That culminated with late poll openings, incorrectly programmed cellphones, drivers taking election materials to the wrong precincts and other problems. The problems got so bad, the state Elections Office took over the county’s General Election.
Yagong, who as council chairman had hired Kawauchi, said Thursday he wasn’t surprised by the findings.
“We had no doubt that there wouldn’t be any increased cost,” Yagong said. “It was just so political at the time.”
The audit was requested by Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, who wanted an audit of just the 2012 election because he was concerned that Kawauchi’s use of Council Services Division staff would lead to overtime charges. The audit found the overtime came to $31,276, a figure that was added to the election totals.
The audit did find some problems including inadequacy of oversight, poor communications and lack of supporting documentation for some transactions and overtime charges in both the county-run primary and state-run General elections. The audit also discovered the county had overestimated how much it owed the state for reimbursable elections costs, saving the county $41,398.
Acting Legislative Auditor Lane Shibata praised the audit firm for its good work, calling the discovery “a tremendous savings that more than covered” the $34,375 cost of the audit.
Onishi said Thursday he hadn’t had a chance to read the 103-page audit as he had been in meetings all day. But he was skeptical that all of the overtime was accounted for. During the May meeting authorizing the audit, Onishi had objected to the audit going back to previous elections, but he was overruled by fellow council members.
Onishi had said after the meeting he just wanted to know how much overtime was incurred by staff from two other divisions of the Clerk’s Office who were called to work across the hall at the Elections Division to help get the work done.
“I wanted to find out how was the staff being paid,” Onishi said. “We didn’t need to look at past years because they’d never done that before.”
But South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford had pushed for the comparison figures.
“That’s the only way you’ll know if something really went awry is if you compare it to the years before,” she said. “I think the public has been very clear that they want the truth. For good, for bad, for ugly, we’re going to get the hard numbers.