County presses state for election probe


HILO—Now that the state Office of Elections has taken over Hawaii County’s general election, the Hawaii County Council wants a full investigation into what went wrong in the primary election that ultimately led to the state taking back its authority.

The council on Wednesday voted 9-0 to endorse a statement by the state League of Women Voters that recommends, among other things, an investigation by the state Elections Commission into problems in the county primary.

Donna Ota, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii County, urged the council to pass the resolution, even if some of the recommendations appeared to have been made moot by the state’s action Tuesday rescinding county control over the election.

In particular, she said, there should be an investigation into what caused problems in the primary.

“Please request the state Elections Commission investigate what went on,” Ota said. “Big Island voters need to be able to trust that their vote counts, but indicators are that voters’ faith in the system has now been shaken.”

The resolution sponsor, North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago, said he’d heard the Elections Commission has declined to investigate.

“We challenge that,” Pilago said.

“It’s absolutely abundantly clear that we need an investigation,” added Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart.

Polling places opening late for the Aug. 11 primary election were the biggest problem plaguing the county. But the state League of Women Voters also pointed to complaints from the state Elections Office that County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi didn’t return its telephone calls and emails. The primary was Kawauchi’s first election, and she undertook it with a shortage of experienced staff after she fired the longtime elections administrator and three other workers after an investigation reportedly turned up evidence of alcohol use and private businesses going on at county elections facilities.

Staff terminations, unexplained leaves of absence, complaints of inadequate staffing and miscommunications have diminished voter confidence and led to an apparent lack of communication and transparency, the League said in a news release.

Kawauchi, in response to questions from West Hawaii Today, said in a written statement that she also has requested an investigation. She said she sent a request to Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Aug. 20 and was told the executive branch had no jurisdiction.

“I fully support an inquiry concerning the 2012 elections by an appropriate government agency,” Kawauchi said.

Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago, in a five-page letter sent Tuesday to Kawauchi, asked the clerk to cooperate on a “seamless transfer” of responsibilities by allowing the state to “retrieve” all elections materials, including cellphones, and provide information on all election day officials such as precinct officials, delivery and collection personnel and facility officials.

Nago plans to open a control and counting center in the state office building adjacent to the county building in Hilo. He noted in his letter to Kawauchi that the state also handles elections on Oahu. The state had released some control of the neighbor island elections to expedite the process.

“Needless to say, a successful election requires the state and the counties to work together for the common good of the electorate,” Nago said in the letter.

Kawauchi, in a news release Wednesday afternoon, said she requested a meeting with Nago on Oahu for today. She said she, county deputy corporation counsel, Nago and attorneys from the state Attorney General’s office are all expected to attend.