HILO — County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi closed the Hilo Elections Office on Monday for an audit of the county voter registration list, an action a state elections official called unprecedented and a county councilman called “fishy.”
The Kona Elections Office remained open, and people coming to the Hilo office were directed across the hall to Council Services, where clerks took names and telephone numbers and distributed elections materials.
Bernice Mau, clerk for the City and County of Honolulu, which administers the statewide voter registration list, said it’s standard operating procedure to send the counties printed copies of their voter lists.
“Every election we send them to all the counties,” Mau said.
But closing the office just 20 days before the Aug. 11 primary to review the list raised eyebrows in Hilo, where the Elections Office has undergone a rocky six months. Rex Quidilla, a spokesman for the state Elections Office, said his office didn’t hear about the closure and audit until late Monday.
“We’ve not had it happen in the past,” he said of the audit.
Kawauchi told West Hawaii Today she wanted to give the list a good review before sending the poll books out to the printer. She declined to say what her office is looking for. An employee from the county’s Information Technology Office was seen inside the Elections Office, hooking up computers to be tested.
“We’re looking at the list to make sure it’s clean and accurate,” Kawauchi said. “We’re trying to be as thorough as possible to run a fair and well-run election. … This is part of us making sure we’re doing everything we can to make that happen.”
The office came under fire after Kawauchi fired Elections Office Administrator Pat Nakamoto, warehouse manager Glen Shikuma and two other employees following an investigation that alleged drinking, storage of alcohol and running a private business out of the county elections warehouse on Makaala Street. Nakamoto has since been reinstated after a grievance process conducted by the administration, but she has not returned to the job.
Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, who has taken his concerns about the readiness of the office to conduct an election all the way to the state Elections Commission, questioned why Kawauchi would conduct an audit so close to an election. He also questioned whether 10,000 new voters have been added to the list since Kawauchi became clerk in late 2010.
“The clerk is appointed by the (County Council) chairman. The staff is also appointed,” Onishi said. “It just sounds fishy to me.”
The voter registration list is not made up from scratch each election, but is added to and purged as people join the rolls, die, move away or commit felonies. A relatively high percentage of Hawaii County’s voting age population is on it — some 70.7 percent of the 142,799 people 18 years and older reported in the 2010 census.
This year, for the first time, permanent absentee ballot registration forms were mailed to all 101,000 voters who were registered to vote at the time. Kawauchi reported earlier this month the number of people registered to vote by mail has increased by 167 percent, from 6,400 to 17,085.