HILO — There were still more questions than answers Tuesday after state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago held an almost two-hour debriefing of county clerks.
Nago emerged from the meeting and told media gathered at Hilo’s state office building that the meeting was “productive,” but he still didn’t know how many Hawaii County polling places opened late Saturday, or what caused the late openings. He estimated that more than half of the county’s polling places — primarily in West Hawaii — opened late.
“It was a lot of different issues,” Nago said, characterizing them as “normal” election-day issues. “We all have our similar problems. … A seasoned elections official would have responded quicker.”
Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, in an interview earlier in the day, said she was in the process of talking with the chairman of each of the 43 polling places, to find out what time each polling place received its poll books and what time it opened. The late poll book problem was compounded by incorrectly programmed telephones at the precincts, making it hard for them to report their problems, Nago said.
He said one thing he suggested to Kawauchi is to pack the election “cans,” the locked boxes containing election materials marked for each polling place, earlier than the night before, to ensure they’ll be ready for early delivery to the polling places.
Nago said he expects Kawauchi to report back after she completes her investigation. He said the clerks don’t report to the state elections office, but they have a collaborative relationship. He hasn’t scheduled a meeting for an update yet, he said.
“I think she’s going to get to the bottom of this, and we will know,” Nago said.
Kawauchi didn’t join Nago for the impromptu media briefing and couldn’t be reached after the meeting.
Nago and six state elections staff were in town to conduct a routine post-election audit that compares the number of poll book signatures with counted ballots. It’s not known if any problems were encountered, but a semi-independent Manual Audit Team conducting similar work on election night found no problems, according to a state elections office spokesman.
But Hawaii County’s election problems have spurred discussion at the state level about whether it would be better to bring election operations back under the lieutenant governor, as it was prior to 1995, instead of having county clerks run local elections under the county councils.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Tuesday that there’s no serious discussion currently going on in the governor’s office about taking that approach, which would require a constitutional amendment.
Abercrombie had issued a proclamation Saturday afternoon, keeping polls open an additional hour and a half in Hawaii County because of the problems.
State Sen. Josh Green, however, a Democrat who represents much of West Hawaii, said Tuesday that the Legislature should look for a solution. If he prevails as expected in the General Election against his Republican and nonpartisan opponents, Jeff LaFrance and Michael Last, respectively, Green’s likely to introduce legislation himself.
“In light of the clerk’s poor performance, we’re certainly going to look closely at the election law,” Green said. “It really was disturbing to many voters.”
He said he’s looking at the prospect of a mail-in only election, such as those conducted by Oregon and Washington state. He said he’d have to meet with voters, however, because for some, the whole Election Day experience of going to the polls is something they may not want to give up. The advantages and disadvantages would have to be carefully weighed, he said.