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State shakes up Big Island County elections office

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Oct 02 2012 09:27:26 PM HST
Updated On: Oct 03 2012 07:54:35 AM HST

State takes away nearly all control from the Big Island County's embattled clerk.

HONOLULU -

"This has never been done before," said State Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago. At a news conference on Tuesday, he said it was time to make a move to ensure a successful election. 

"This year has been a particularly challenging year for a number of reasons, which have all been well documented," said Nago. 
 
On August 11, the governor issued a rare emergency proclamation to keep polling places statewide open 90 minutes longer.
 
More than a dozen Big Island locations opened late that morning, after polling boxes went to the wrong locations, were packed incorrectly, elections phones failed to work, and poor communication over what was happening made matters worse.
 
"I'm very happy to see that the state elections is now stepping up," said Hawaii County council member Dennis Onishi. He's been pushing to get County clerk Jamae Kuwaiti removed since the Big Island primary debacle. 

Onishi and others have said her lack of experience, poor communication, and failure to prove primary problems have been resolved, convinced them it was time for a change.
 
"I think voters on the Big Island will be confident that we're gonna have a better elections," he told KITV from the Big Island by phone. 
 
Nago says Kawauchi is still the County clerk, but her responsibilities have been drastically reduced. The county  will be handling voter registration and absentee balloting. He said state administrator Lori Tomczyk will oversee everything else, from control centers and polling places, to counting ballots managing additional staff.
 
"The office decided it was the best thing to do to ensure a successful general election," said Nago.
 
The state elections commissioner supports the move and the governor said on Tuesday in a statement, "This action by the Office of Elections assures all voters on general election day, they can be confident voting will take place in an orderly fashion."

KITV reached Hawaii County council chair Dominic Yagong by phone. He defended Kawauchi's performance, saying she would do a fine job running the general election. He added, he would support an investigation into the activities leading up to the primary that he believes contributed to the primary day problems. 

Nago said staff will draw about $50,000 from the state election office's budget to cover changes and additional manpower.

He said after he informed Kawauchi of the move, she requested a meeting with him, with lawyers present.

Kawauchi did not return KITV's repeated calls on Tuesday.

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