Hawaii lawmakers want to reform state elections
HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are pushing to reform the state elections process after a series of mishaps caused polling places to run out of ballots and open late last year.
House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson wants to give the chief elections officer the power to supervise inexperienced county clerks.
Jamae Kawauchi, who was Hawaii County’s clerk, was criticized when 13 of the 40 Big Island polling places opened late for last year’s primary election. She hadn’t run an election before.
Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state elections office, said the relationship between the state office and the counties has historically been good and that last year was a “glaring exception.”
Johanson’s bill would also require the chief elections officer to use a checklist when preparing for the election.
The proposal is a common-sense way of making sure new elections officials aren’t caught unaware, he said.
The Republican said he expects the bill to be well-received in the House.
“You don’t need to go too far to find someone who had an issue in this past election process,” he said. “Almost everyone’s constituents experienced some level of frustration.”
Rep. Sharon Har is pushing to get rid of the state office of elections and the elections commission altogether.
The Democrat says their responsibilities should be transferred to the lieutenant governor.
Har also introduced a bill that would make the elections commission more tightly supervise the chief elections officer.
The commission currently holds public hearings, investigates violations and is responsible for hiring and firing the chief elections officer.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday that the elections commission decided to keep Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago in his job despite the blunders last Election Day.
Other initiatives introduced include allowing voters to register on Election Day and automatic voter registration when people reapply for a driver’s license.
Rep. Kaniela Ing, a Democrat from Maui, says allowing voters to register on Election Day would help improve youth voter turnout. But Quidilla said the change could pose technical difficulties for the elections office.
“We’ve always struggled to try to recruit poll workers,” he said, noting that same-day voter registration would require additional staffing and training.