HONOLULU — The state elections commission on Tuesday formed a subcommittee to investigate what caused two dozen Oahu polling places to run out of paper ballots during the Nov. 6 General Election.
The panel will present its findings at the commission’s next meeting the week of Jan. 7, commission Chairman William Marston said.
The commission moved after hearing testimony from voters and activists saying people felt their civil rights were violated because they weren’t able to exercise their right to vote. Some questioned whether a criminal conspiracy caused the ballot shortage, and requested that the FBI investigate.
“We’re obviously very concerned about what the public feels. We’re concerned as a commission to try to rectify that. It’s gut-wrenching, along the way, to go through that,” Martson said.
The commission wanted a subcommittee to look into the issue to make sure they’re correct.
“We want to be sure that whatever we do, we’ve covered all the bases,” he said.
Marston issued a statement on behalf of the commission saying members take the community’s civil rights and the fundamental right of every citizen to vote very seriously. The commission wants to maintain the integrity of the election process in Hawaii, the statement said.
The panel will be comprised of the commission’s two members from Oahu — Daniel Young and Zale Okazaki.
Marston said the commission would assess the office’s leadership after hearing the subcommittee’s report.
Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago told the commission 51 polling places on Oahu ran low on ballots and 24 ran out completely.
Nago says the state had enough reserve ballots but wasn’t able to deliver them in time.
He told reporters after the commission meeting the locations that ran out were often larger polling places with more registered voters. He said they were all over the island and were not concentrated in a particular area.
Asked whether he’s worried about losing his job, Nago said: “I’m prepared to fully participate with the subcommittee and provide them with all the information.”
Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi told the committee she felt Nago behaved “negatively” toward the county in response to problems that caused 13 out of 40 Big Island polling places to open late on primary election day.
The state took over the operation of Hawaii County polling places on General Election day as a result.
Kawauchi said she didn’t significantly protest at the time because she felt not doing so was in the best interest of voters. But she told the commission she wanted to point out Nago’s actions now that the election has passed.
She told The Associated Press after her testimony she believes the negative publicity generated by the way the Nago treated her and the county held down voter turnout on the Big Island.
“I was called incompetent. Our operations were found to be substandard, I was found to be an ineffective leader,” Kawauchi said.
“When looking at his own actions for the General Election on Oahu, of course he’s not calling himself incompetent, he’s not calling himself a failed leader,” she said. “He’s not calling himself ill-equipped to handle an election. Instead he’s trying to find solutions. Which is all I tried to do.”