by Andrew Walden
Hawaii now is conducting the State's largest mail-in election. Ballots have been mailed to every registered voter in the First Congressional District as Republican Charles Djou faces off with Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case in a special election necessitated by the resignation of Neil Abercrombie from Congress. Voters have until 6PM May 22nd to get their ballot to the Hawaii Office of Elections.
Hawai’i Free Press spoke with Scott Nago, Chief Election Officer, Hawaii Office of Elections, about the results after five days of balloting. Nago told our interviewer he was unable to provide an estimate of how many ballots have been received by his office so far. But in a separate story today, KHON reported: "According to the office of elections, fewer than one fifth of the ballots have been sent back in by voters. Just 60,000 so far out of the 317,000 issued."
Nago also indicated that his office would be able to inform individual voters whether their ballots had been received or not -- but could not provide the campaigns with lists of who had cast ballots—a key piece of information in any “get out the vote” effort.
Here's our interview. Count the number of times Nago says "No."
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Q : Are you busy?
A: We're in election mode.
Q: Can you tell me how many ballots have been sent in--in the Special Election?
A: No. I don't have a count offhand and I couldn't get you that information. We're still processing. We have a lot.
Q: Do you think you are going to have a count anytime soon?
Q: Are you going to try to provide a count before the 22nd?
Q: If I was a voter in CD1, how would I be able to determine whether or not you have received my mail-in ballot?
A: You could call the office and we will check to see if we have received your ballot.
Q: Are the campaigns providing election observers there at the office?
A: No. The parties are.
Q: So the Republicans have one...
A: And the Democrats.
Q: And the Democrats have one?
A: There's actually two.
Q: Two each. OK.
A: And there's also other, League of Women Voters...other organizations that provide a service.
Q: In a traditional precinct-style election, they can go to the precinct and see who has cast their ballot, say at 10 o'clock in the morning.
A: That is poll watchers.
Q: And so are you providing poll-watcher information to these observers?
A: No because we cannot provide...our system that we are using is not capable of providing (names of) those who are voting.
Q: When people mail in their ballots, they are required to sign the envelope. Do you have an estimate of how many are coming in without a signature?
A: Very few. I would say not much at all. What we do is we send that envelope back to the voter with a letter saying you must sign your envelope in order for your ballot to be coded.
Q: So you're not phoning them, your just mailing it back....
A: We're mailing it back with the envelope because they need to sign the envelope, yeah. So they can sign it and mail it back.
Q: What are you doing to compare signatures to a signature on file?
A: We pull it up. We look at the signature and if it matches, we pass it through.
Q: How many would you say are coming up...
A: We haven't started that process yet.
Q: When do you think you would start that?
A: Later on this week. Right now we're just trying to get everything marked to say we received the ballots. It is a multi-step process: you receive the ballot, the record is tagged, and you go and compare the signatures.
Q: One of the main arguments that has been presented for a mail-in election like this is that is supposed to increase voter turnout. But of course the campaigns themselves often drive their own turnout by identifying voters that support the candidate and making sure they turn out to vote. How can you help voter turnout without providing the candidates with the names of voters who cast their ballot?
A: We never...the reason to go all-mail in election was not to increase turnout. It was basically to put on the election which we were required to by the constitution. And get it done. Because if this were a traditional polling place election we would not have been able to find the facilities. So it was a logistical decision.
Q: As Chief Elections Officer, is voter turnout part of your job?
A: Is it my job to get people to turn out and vote?
Q: Is it part of your job description to do things that encourage voter turnout?
A: I believe it's registration, voter registration.
Q: And so you have responsibilities regarding registration, but you don't have responsibilities regarding turnout.
A: That's right.
Q: Have you received any complaints from the Republicans, the Democrats or any of the campaigns about how you're conducting this?
A: They want the list, but we cannot provide it because we are not capable...the system we're using currently is not capable of providing a list of who voted.
Q: And you don't think you're going to be able to achieve that capability before the 22nd?
A: No. The system that we are using is from the City and County of Honolulu. The mainframe system would take hours of programming to accomplish that.
Q: So it is a system that the City and County of Honolulu use....
A: For absentee voting, yes.
Q: What is it called, is there a name for it?
A: I don't know what it is called. We call it the Statewide Voter Registration System. But I don't know what the official title is.
Q: At the walk-in station (at Honolulu Hale starting May 10), are the poll-watchers going to have the same access they usually have at a precinct where they can see who voted?
A: They can see who voted, but there's not really a poll-book at the AB Walk site.
Q: But they'd be able to get the names of who voted, though?
A: No. They can keep track themselves.