Duplicate voters to be addressed, clerk says

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Tribune-Herald staff writer

With less than two weeks until the primary election, Hawaii County Clerk’s Office is sorting through between 50 and 60 duplicate voter registrations to ensure that this time the one person, one vote rule prevails.

It sounds easy enough but removing a name, even a suspected duplicate is not as simple as pressing the delete button.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said Wednesday that state law “requires me to determine if … similar identities are in fact that same person and to give that person notice.”

Kawauchi said her office is working through that process and is consulting with the county’s corporation counsel.

The clerk, who oversees the county’s Elections Division, told reporters in Honolulu about the duplications after meeting with state elections officers on Tuesday as well as the discovery that four or five Big Island residents, due to the duplicates, appeared to have voted twice in the 2010 elections.

She became aware of the voting discrepancies during an internal audit that began the weekend of July 21-22.

That audit resulted in Kawauchi closing the elections office without notice the following Monday, prompting criticism. She said she thought notice had gone out about the closure, done to complete the audit.

While speaking to local media in a press conference Wednesday, Kawauchi said the double voting occurred in different precincts and districts and does not appear to be “systematic.”

But she also could not comment on how the double voting and duplicates could have occurred.

She referred those questions to the state Attorney General’s Office which had been notified of the voter issues.

Kawauchi told reporters Tuesday that a clerical error may be to blame.

Attorney General’s Office spokesman Josh Wisch said the agency is “reviewing the allegations for appropriate action” but declined further comment.

Voter fraud is a Class C felony and can be punished with fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 and up to two years in prison. Additionally, those found guilty are banned from voting in the state or holding elected office.

Kawauchi, who was hired in 2011, said in an interview later Wednesday she expects to sort out the duplications by the Aug. 11 primary.

“I will tell you that I feel very confident that we’re not going to have a problem with this,” she said.

If some of the duplicates remain, the clerk said she will notify her staff and precinct officers at polling places to be on the lookout for those names.

Kawauchi said the duplicates have the same date of birth and social security numbers but the names differ slightly.

For instance, the names may be the same except for the addition of a Jr. or Sr. suffix.

The clerk also said that some of the duplicates have been on the books for “several years.”

Asked to elaborate, she said she couldn’t give an exact date but added that some existed during the 2008 elections.

Kawauchi said she did not search 2008 election records to look for double voting. She said that would be up to the Attorney General’s Office, adding that her focus is on making sure it doesn’t happen again.

Kawauchi said the double voting occurred at separate polling places and was done by the voter returning to the same polling place to vote again or voting in a booth and submitting a ballot in the mail.

She she “I cannot guess” as to how that may have slipped passed elections staff.

The double voting appears to have occurred only during the primary election, the clerk said. She said the names of those who voted twice cannot be released.

The Elections Division is also in the process of resending misappropriated or improperly mailed yellow cards.

The cards tell voters about their precincts and polling places.

Kawauchi said voters who do not receive a card should go to their nearest polling place and talk to a precinct officer or call the office at 961-8277 (Hilo) or 323-4400 (Kona).

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.