HILO — County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi on Wednesday assured Hawaii County voters the election is under control, even as the attorney for fired Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto said his client should be reinstated immediately to ensure voting goes off without a hitch.
“If you vote, we will count your vote,” Kawauchi said at a news conference for local reporters and bloggers. “If there is a duplicate, we will do our best to address that as soon as we can.”
Kawauchi said if someone didn’t get a yellow postcard indicating their polling place, or can’t find it, they should go to the precinct where they last voted, and the precinct worker would ensure they got to the right place. Precinct workers are also being trained to watch for duplicate entries in the poll books, she said.
Kawauchi was responding to what might have become a crisis of confidence among Hawaii County voters, several of whom contacted West Hawaii Today about what they thought were problems with their yellow cards and their absentee ballots. Most of those concerns turned out to be unfounded.
Confidence may have been further eroded when Kawauchi closed the Hilo office July 23 to analyze the voter registry, and then later by Kawauchi’s revelation that she found some 50 to 60 duplicate entries, as well as indications that five people voted twice in the 2010 election. Kawauchi, who started her tenure as county clerk in 2011, turned the matter over to the state Attorney General’s Office, then remained closed-mouthed with the media about what was going on.
She said Wednesday she has no regrets about her actions.
But Ted Hong, who monitored the news conference, characterized the voter registry problem as minimal, something only an inexperienced worker would worry about, especially this close to the Aug. 11 primary.
“At this late stage, the only way to determine (that the office is ready for the election) is to bring in someone that knows what’s going on and can set a priority list of what’s important,” Hong said. “This is a position where you need an experienced hand.”
Nakamoto is on paid leave after winning a union employee grievance process following her firing in January. Also fired were warehouse manager Glen Shikuma and two other employees following an investigation that alleged drinking, storage of alcohol and the operation of a private business out of the county elections warehouse on Makaala Street.
Kawauchi has been subjected since then to a barrage of questions and negative comments from Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi; members of the state Elections Commission; and finally the state’s chief elections officer, Scott Nago, himself. Nago, in fact, wrote a letter to Mayor Billy Kenoi April 17 as a private individual, urging the mayor to expedite Nakamoto’s grievance so she could return to her duties before the election. Nakamoto’s live-in boyfriend, former state Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina, is Nago’s former boss.
“It absolutely was political,” Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said Tuesday night, adding, however, that Kawauchi’s secrecy about what was going on didn’t help her in the public’s eye.
Does Kawauchi think the personal relationships played a role in the criticism of her office?
“I appreciated the fact that we had a very good meeting and all the issues we might have had have been resolved,” she said Wednesday about a meeting the day before with Nago and the clerks of the other counties.