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Schatz rejects clerk’s request to take over election

Hawaii 24/7 Staff

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi wrote a letter Monday, Aug. 20 to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, urging him to conduct an independent review of the state Office of Elections and remove oversight of the Nov. 6 General Election from that office.

Below are the complete texts of Kawauchi’s letter to the governor and the response from Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Full text of Kawauchi’s letter to Abercrombie:

Regarding: Review and Oversight of State Office of Elections

Dear Governor Abercrombie:

I am writing to request an independent review of the State of Hawaii Office of Elections and also to ask that you please consider having the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Hawaii oversee the administration of the State of Hawaii Office of Elections.

I am deeply concerned about the Election Day irregularities on Hawaii island during the Primary Election. The late opening of polling places on Hawaii island is completely unacceptable. As the chief elections officer for the County of Hawaii no one can be more concerned than I am about the problems that occurred on Election Day. I began investigating the election irregularities the day after the election, mid-day, August 12, 2012.

My review has been hampered by the removal of election records from the County of Hawaii by the State of Hawaii Office of Elections without my permission and consent and without prior notice. To date, the State of Hawaii Office of Elections has not provided me with a copy of the election records that they removed.

This action on behalf of the State of Hawaii Office of Elections is deeply disturbing and does little to provide me with confidence that the State Office of Elections can work in partnership with the County of Hawaii in running the general election.

In September 2011, I expressed my strong concerns to the State of Hawaii Elections Commission about the performance of the State of Hawaii Office of Elections in the following categories:

1. Planning, organization, scheduling, assigning and directing the work of elections personnel.

2. Communication and treating staff with respect and courtesy.

3. Acceptance of suggestions for improvement.

4. Listening to input from staff, volunteers, and community.

5. Conduct of the elections and election day operations including the processing of absentee ballots, the security and delivery and collection of ballots, and the dissemination of election results in accordance with the law.

6. Working with county clerks and other interested persons to formulate proposed election related legislation each session.

To my knowledge the State of Hawaii Elections Commission has never acted upon any of my concerns. They have never communicated to me that my concerns about the State of Hawaii Office of Elections have been resolved and addressed. This has negatively impacted Hawaii County elections.

Some examples include:

1. Failed communication between the State of Hawaii and Hawaii County. Although there is no place for personal or political attacks in elections, Mr. Nago uses the media to attack me personally and politically. Some recent examples of this include Mr. Nago conducting an investigation of Hawaii County elections without providing me with notice that he was conducting an investigation, releasing an election investigation report to the media without sending me a copy, publicly accusing me of failing to communicate with him, which is not true, not providing me with the opportunity to comment about his report prior to its release to the media.

2. Removal of important election-related government records from my office without asking for permission to do so, without my having inspected the records before he removed them, and without providing me with notice of the removal of the records.

3. The inability address and find joint solutions for the significant issues that Hawaii County and the State Office of Elections obviously need to overcome to work together in partnership to run an election impacted the election because he has been unable to come up with any solution to Hawaii County elections needs other than the return of workers who have separated from the office.

4. The failure to accept responsibility for the jointly run Hawaii County election. His recent report indicates that he is trying to distance himself from the election for which he is responsible, which does nothing to address the need for cooperation between the state and the counties to move forward to have a fair and well run election for the general.

5. Although Mr. Nago acknowledges that he has shared responsibility for running a joint election, his office is semi-autonomous and it is obvious that he is not held accountable by the elections commission for statewide elections, including the conduct of the elections and election day operations including the processing of absentee ballots, the security and delivery and collection of ballots, and the dissemination of election results in accordance with the law.

6. Publicly stating that I have undermined the public’s confidence in our electoral system but he does not take responsibility for his negative, biased, unfair and untrue reports to the media about me that are unnecessary and do much to undermine voter confidence.

7. Mr. Nago did not immediately inform me that he was sending a “veteran election worker” to Hawaii island for election day. I was informed on August 9,2012 that a worker was coming to Hawaii island, and that she was sent by the State Chief Elections Officer to assist the new counting center manager, Terrance Noda. By not informing me that the worker was coming, it did not afford me an opportunity to consult and plan with her on the running of the joint elections. When she arrived she told me that she was responsible for counting center. I note that counting center operations did not run as smoothly as it could and that she was highly critical of Hawaii island operations, to a fault.

8. Although it was his responsibility to do so, Mr. Nago failed to send necessary Primary Election day related material to my office, used in the operation of the election, and he failed to provide me with notice that he was not sending the material to me. Instead the “veteran election worker” brought the materials with her to my office the day of the election and she did not give me an opportunity to inspect the materials before they were used on Primary Election day.

9. Precinct officials and other veteran elections volunteers for counting center told me that considering all of the obstacles that Hawaii County faced, they told me that Hawaii County did a good job. The State Chief Elections Officer interviewed and debriefed with these precinct officials and other veteran elections volunteers and he did not include positive feedback in his August 16, 2012, report.

10. It is being reported that Mr. Nago requested that a deputy attorney general be sent to Hawaii Island to provide assistance, but it is my understanding that the attorney general left it up to the counties to decide if a deputy attorney general should be present for the election to assist the board of registration. I did confirm with the attorney general that a deputy attorney general should be
present for the election to assist the board of registration because I welcomed any assistance that the attorney general could provide because I wanted to do a good job in running the elections.

11. Mr. Nago appears not to be concerned about the possibility of voter fraud in the State of Hawaii and he has criticized and chastised me for performing a review of the Hawaii County voter registration system and finding 55 duplicate voters and possibly 5 voters who voted twice in 2010. His attitude toward possible voter fraud has undermined the importance of maintaining a proper voter registration list and confidence in my ability to run and election. I note that none of the other counties have performed a comprehensive review of their voter registry and that the City and County of Honolulu has stated that double voting occurs in every election and is usually detected months after the challenge period.

For these reasons and others, I feel it is of the utmost importance for the State Office of Elections to be under the direct oversight of someone that is accountable to the people of the State of Hawaii.

By placing the Office of Elections under the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, the Lieutenant Governor will provide the necessary oversight to improve or address the significant issues that Hawaii County and the State Office of Elections obviously need to overcome to work together in partnership to run an election. It will prevent situations like the current one from ever repeating itself.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request. Please do not hesitate to contact me at my office at (808) 961-8271 should you have any questions.

Very truly yours,
Jamae Kawauchi
Hawaii County Clerk

Hawaii County Clerk Jamae K. Kawauchi says Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz should oversee the administration of the November General Elections.

Schatz released the following statement in response:

“Right now is a time to focus on ensuring that the Nov. 6 General Election comes off without a hitch statewide, with a particular focus on Hawaii county. The Administration will make certain that the Office of Elections and the County Clerk work together to execute a well-run election. The law does not give my office jurisdiction or control over the election process. If Ms. Kawauchi or anyone else believes that the law should change, the appropriate time to address this issue is in the 2013 legislative session. Now is not the time for blame-shifting. Now is the time to focus on solving the problem at hand.”

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