Schatz urges Hawaii County's clerk to work with elections officials
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 23, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 06:27 a.m. HST, Aug 23, 2012
Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said Wednesday that the Abercrombie administration would monitor preparations in Hawaii County before the November general election, but urged the county clerk to work with the state Office of Elections to prevent a repeat of the irregularities that marred the primary.
The administration denied a request by Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong to host a meeting during which he and Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi could discuss preparations with the administration, state elections officials and the state Attorney General's Office.
The Office of Elections has criticized Kawauchi's performance during the primary, when more than a dozen precincts in Hawaii County opened late, while Kawauchi countered that the state's response did not give her confidence in their partnership.
"The administration will continue to monitor the situation," Schatz said in a statement. "We encourage Mr. Yagong and Ms. Kawauchi to work directly with the state Office of Elections and put all their focus on ensuring a smoothly run general election."
Yagong, who appointed and supervises Kawauchi, said he contacted Scott Nago, the state's chief election officer, to help repair what he described as a "strained relationship" between state elections officials and the clerk.
"That needs to be mended and mended immediately," said Yagong, who added he hopes that he, Kawauchi and Nago will talk soon.
Yagong said he told Kawauchi that "there's only one thing that's the most important thing right now, and that is that we ensure a smooth and fair general election, that we do not have the problems that occurred, and the only way that we can do this is to be able to mend this public, ongoing conflict."
Nago said state elections officials plan to meet with all of the county clerks to prepare for the general election. He said he would continue to offer help to Kawauchi, but not at the expense of the other counties and the state.
"We will provide all the assistance we can without compromising the rest of the state," Nago said Wednesday during a state Elections Commission meeting at the state Capitol.
Several members of the Elections Commission were disappointed that Kawauchi did not attend the meeting, during which county elections officials from Oahu, Maui and Kauai briefed the commission on the primary. Kawauchi did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
"I'm disappointed," said Warren Orikasa, who represents Maui on the commission. "I think they will do a lot better in the general, but today's absence really speaks volumes."
Hawaii County Councilman Dennis "Fresh" Onishi, who has said he would remove Kawauchi if he had the power, appealed to the Office of Elections and the Elections Commission for help on Hawaii island for the general election. But Orikasa and others on the commission said that it is up to Kawauchi to request help.
Onishi also called for the commission to conduct an investigation of what happened in Hawaii County during the primary, while the League of Women Voters recommended an independent review to help restore voter confidence. The delays in opening precincts prompted Gov. Neil Abercrombie to extend voting hours by 90 minutes.
William Marston, the commission's chairman, would not comment afterward on what action, if any, the commission would take.
"We are all concerned about the upcoming election running smoothly," he said. "We don't want to do anything that would jeopardize that, so we're looking at trying to help that along."
The mishaps in Hawaii County during the primary exposed some of the jurisdictional challenges of election oversight. Nago, as the state's chief election officer, oversees state elections and reports to the Elections Commission. But county clerks have a degree of local control over the vote and answer to county councils.
Kawauchi, who was conducting her first election, had assured the Office of Elections and the Elections Commission before the primary that she was prepared. Yagong and his majority on the Hawaii County Council have stood behind Kawauchi.
Meanwhile, Kalei Akaka, who lost the Democratic primary for a Hawaii County state House seat to Nicole Lowen by 45 votes, has filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court contesting the results. Akaka, the granddaughter of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, wants a recount or a new election.
"I am bringing this lawsuit because I feel that due to the numerous voting procedure irregularities which have been extensively covered by the media, Hawaii Island citizens were not provided with a proper and fair electoral process," Akaka said in a statement issued by her attorney.