Elections office prepares for worst

By TOM CALLIS

By TOM CALLIS

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Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii County is adjusting its game plan for the Nov. 6 general election in order to avoid the problems that plagued the primary.

So far, changes involve hiring more staff, expanding training for at least some election workers, and distributing election material days if not weeks ahead of time.

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said additional staff will be hired as “troubleshooters,” responsible for assisting precincts on election day, and for the deployment of election material.

Additionally, precinct boxes, containing basic materials for election day such as pencils and paper, may be sent to precinct chairs as early as next week, she said. Precinct cans, which contain more sensitive information such as voter rolls, may be distributed as early as four days before the election rather than election day itself.

Misdelivery of those items during the Aug. 11 primary proved to be a major disruption for the election, causing over a dozen polling places, many in West Hawaii, to open late. An unidentified person with “many years of experience working in elections” will also be added as a precinct official assigned to assist the leeward side, Kawauchi said.

She declined to identify that person in order to protect their privacy.

Kawauchi said she doesn’t think distributing the precinct cans early would increase the chances of them being tampered with.

“In terms of security, there’s a seal,” she said, adding, “These are very responsible people who do not want a problem to occur on election day.

“I think for a can, I think they are OK.”

Kawauchi said the changes are the result of numerous meetings she has had with precinct officials following the primary. Those meetings, she said, will continue.

“We’re looking for solutions and we have a lot of good people in the community,” Kawauchi said. “We all want the best thing for the island.”

The clerk said all vacant permanent and temporary elections positions should be filled by the end of the week. There were two “regular staff” positions vacant in Hilo as of Wednesday but she didn’t have the titles at hand.

Earlier this week, she announced the appointment of Elizabeth Lehua Iopa as acting elections program administrator. She replaced Arlene Boteilho who filled the position after the January firing of Pat Nakamoto.

Kawauchi has declined to provide any details on the staffing changes, citing privacy laws regarding personnel matters. She said three other positions had also been filled recently.

County Human Resources Director Ron Takahashi said in an email that Boteilho’s current position is council services assistant.

Kawauchi said she is also expanding training for the troubleshooters, who will grow in numbers from about five to 12. They will this time around be required to meet with precinct officials before election day.

To assist the county, the state Office of Elections is hosting three workshops around the state to allow clerks and election officials share information and tips.

The second one will be held today on Maui.

The state office is also resending Lori Tomczyk, who runs its ballot operations section, to assist the county on election day. Tomczyk was also on hand in Hilo during the primary.

Rex Quidilla, agency spokesman, said he wasn’t “prepared to comment” on the county’s preparations.

“We hope this all does work,” he added. “We’re still a ways out.”

Kawauchi has been criticized for not attending the first workshop on Kauai earlier this month, and instead sending some of her staff in her place.

She said she couldn’t attend due to a meeting already scheduled with precinct officials.

County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said he also couldn’t comment on the changes.

“I’ve really stepped completely away from having any engagement with the elections process because of the ethics complaint brought forward,” he said.

That complaint said that he shouldn’t act as chairman, and in effect Kawauchi’s boss, since his daughter is running for council.

Yagong also said he wasn’t planning to give time to Kawauchi to provide the council with an update on the preparations for the election.

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“For me, right now, I think it’s best to leave that alone and let the process go and let them do what they need to do,” he said.

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

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