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Hawaii County clerk responds to report

August 18, 2012

HONOLULU - Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi called a state report criticizing her elections leadership an unnecessary personal attack from an office that is itself mismanaged.

The state Office of Elections needs "better management" and should be under the control of the lieutenant governor's office, Kawauchi told The Associated Press on Friday.

"I'm looking for someone not to point fingers at me but work with me to make a good election," she said.

She was responding to a state elections report released Thursday that blasted her for "poor planning, implementation and leadership." The office said it conducted an investigation into Big Island polls opening late on primary election day because she didn't have a "handle on how many polling places out of 40 in the county opened late." There were 13, the report concluded.

"Essentially, the county clerk on election day is supposed to be like a field general with a plan of attack, who acts confidently, and has the support of his or her troops," the report said. "The county clerk was in no way, shape or form that type of leader."

The delays led to a proclamation by the governor to keep Big Island polls open 90 minutes later. "The public's confidence in our elections was rocked by this election proclamation, which normally is only issued when a natural disaster or emergency occurs," the report said.

Kawauchi took offense to the report, which she said she wasn't told about or given a chance to respond to before it was released.

"The comments are very personal, and I don't think it has a place in this," she said. "Some things happen and they're unforeseen."

The mistakes that led to the polls opening late included a delivery of election material such as ballots and electronic voting equipment to Waikoloa that should have been made the night before the primary, she explained. Kawauchi didn't find out until the morning of the primary that those materials were instead delivered to Kailua-Kona.

She also later learned that materials such as poll books that precincts needed to open were left at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Somehow a wrong decision was made to first deliver the items to Waikoloa and then backtrack to the other sites, she said.

Adding to the confusion was that cellphones used by workers weren't programmed with the right phone numbers to reach those sites, Kawauchi said.

"This type of delivery schedule is one they've been following for many years," she said. "It happened, and it's obvious to me it's not because of my poor planning."

Kawauchi said the scrutiny is distracting from her staff being able to focus on the Nov. 6 general election. "I'm here seven days a week," she said, noting that she was working on Statehood Day.

And because of the holiday, state elections officials were not immediately available to respond to her comments Friday.



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