- Associated Press - Friday, August 22, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago tried to explain a host of problems that occurred during the recent primary election held in the wake of a tropical storm - from why a makeup election was held after initially telling voters of closed Big Island precincts they would be mailed ballots to why 800 ballots went uncounted on Maui.

With a lawyer sitting at his side, Nago addressed the issue of the Maui ballots at an Elections Commission meeting Friday by blaming the problem on a vendor error. There was a Hana memory card that was mistakenly read twice, and so a vendor cleared the database, he said. But the vendor then later failed to re-scan one of the cards, Nago said.

Nago said that in retrospect, the uncounted ballots should have been reported to the public sooner than nearly a week after the primary and that an audit should have been conducted the night of the primary.

The primary was held the day after Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall over southeast Hawaii, leading elections officials to close two precincts in the badly damaged Puna region. Voters in those precincts were told they would be mailed ballots. But Nago said that decision was later changed because of information from the county that roads became accessible after the storm.

Commissioner Zale Okazaki questioned how voters could know about that change when they didn’t have electricity. Nago responded: “Fliers.”

Nago defended the decision to press on with the primary despite the approaching storm, citing a need for an election “without unjust delay.”

Once the polls opened, Nago said only the governor had the power to postpone or extend voting. A spokesman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie declined to comment because of pending litigation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a lawsuit Thursday against Abercrombie and Nago saying that Big Island voters were disenfranchised because storm damage kept some voters from the polls.

Two Big Island politicians called for Nago’s removal.

“Extending the poll hours would not have helped one bit,” said Hawaii County Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who represents South Kona, Kau and part of Puna.

Among residents struggling without electricity, there was “massive fear of looting and breaking-and-enterings going on,” she said. “People were afraid to leave their homes to go vote. You’re there to guard your home and guard your family and try to recover from a disaster.”

Puna state Rep. Faye Hanohano, who said she was without electricity for 11 days, agreed with Ford that Nago should be removed and re-votes conducted. “For a decision to be made by the person in charge without coming out to see the area … you need to see it, then you would know and have a feel of the people in the area,” she said.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman, another Democrat representing Puna, said he doesn’t think he’s in the position to call for Nago to be removed.

“I do believe something needs to change. But I believe I honestly don’t have the information about what action should be taken,” he said.

The commission later went into an executive session.

Commissioners decided they will conduct investigations into Nago’s handling of the election process, the Puna makeup election and the uncounted Maui votes, KHON-TV reported.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at https://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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