HILO — An emergency County Council meeting, election challenges and calls for an investigation are coming on the heels of Saturday’s primary election, when many polling places did not open on time.
It’s still not known how many polling places opened late. County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said Monday afternoon that she was still investigating and didn’t yet know.
“Obviously, opening polls late is not something anybody wants to see happening,” Kawauchi said. “We are examining the details of the election in an effort to understand what happened and how it can be prevented.”
The election got off to such a rocky start that Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a proclamation giving Hawaii County polling places an extra hour and a half to remain open. Counting the ballots, however, seemed to go smoothly and results for all precincts were available by 11 p.m. The state had sent down a staffer to help count the ballots.
The county had two control procedures in place to handle on-the-spot issues. The county Board of Registration, staffed by a deputy state attorney general, was convened to handle questions about voters not in the poll books. In addition, a semi-independent Manual Audit Team made up of volunteers had the authority to do spot recounts of any race or any polling place, said state Elections Office spokesman Rex Quidilla. He said no issues were reported.
Kawauchi isn’t the only one who’s looking into the election problems. The state Office of Elections will also have questions when it conducts its routine post-election debriefing of county clerks, possibly as early as today.
“We all at the administrative level debrief the county clerks,” said Quidilla, “and kind of put our heads together and overall evaluate the performance of the election. This is a normal part of the process.”
Quidilla said that office also doesn’t have an accurate count of how many polling places opened late. He said Kawauchi first reported there were three and later she reported 11 had opened late. He said information from “external sources” estimated it could have been as many as 25 of the county’s 43 precincts.
‘That just tells me we don’t know the answer,” Quidilla said.
County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong on Monday traveled to Honolulu to ask the state attorney general to grant him authority to hold an emergency council meeting Thursday. He said there is a “sense of urgency” to get a report from Kawauchi on what went wrong and how it can be fixed in time for the General Election.
“We want to find out exactly what took place,” Yagong said. “Obviously our concern is to make sure these problems are ironed out.”
The emergency meeting wasn’t granted because the attorney general noted that there’s still three months before the General Election. Instead, Yagong has called for a special meeting Monday due to Sunshine Law requirements of a minimum of six days’ notice.
The polling place missteps have also given birth to an election challenge by former state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who garnered 69 fewer votes than the winner for the District 4 state Senate Democratic primary, Malama Solomon. Inouye said Monday she has hired legal counsel and will file a petition with the Hawaii Supreme Court under state law governing “contests for cause.”
Unlike some other states, candidates in Hawaii have no choice other than to petition the Supreme Court for a recount. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have automatic recounts if the difference between the winner and loser is within a certain amount, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures 2010 report.
“Definitely I’m headed that way,” Inouye said, noting that she has until Friday to file her petition with the court. “The election process has been faulty that triggered flaws not only throughout the month before the election, but up to the day of the election.”
Inouye said after the printout from the state Elections Office showed that 13 of 13 precincts had been counted, a truck arrived at the county elections control center carrying more ballots from Waimea. The 10:49 p.m. printout showed Solomon with 3,866 votes to Inouye’s 3,788 votes. The final summary report printed at 3:12 a.m. Sunday showed Solomon with 4,068 votes to Inouye’s 3,999. Both reports indicated 13 of 13 precincts counted.
“I have to challenge,” Inouye said. “If in fact I don’t prevail, at least I was there as a cause for the people and their right to vote.”
Kalei Akaka, a candidate in the Democratic primary for state House District 6, is also contemplating a challenge, said family friend Elisa Yadao, who works on a number of campaigns for major candidates. Akaka had 45 fewer votes than the winner, Nicole Lowen.
In addition, Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi plans to testify about election problems at the Aug. 22 meeting of the state Elections Commission. Onishi had attended the May 30 meeting of the state board to ask for help in light of the inexperienced staff at the county office. The commission took no action, but Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago told the commission that his office had been providing extra training to the county workers, according to the draft minutes.
Onishi is also working on a resolution he hopes will be heard at the County Council’s Sept. 6 meeting, asking Kawauchi to answer specific questions.
“If state elections had gotten involved earlier and had a staff to help the clerk, I think this would have run easier,” Onishi said.
But Kawauchi points out that more people voted in this election than the 2010 primary, and the workers overall did a good job.
“We definitely got off to a rocky start attributed to telecommunications problems, delivery issues and equipment issues,” Kawauchi said. “However, we righted our ship as quickly as we could, and the staff worked together to do the best job they could.”