Big Island Voters' Rights Severely Impacted
News Release from Hawaii Republican Party
HONOLULU - Earlier today the Hawaii Republican Party sent the following letter to the State of Hawaii Office of Elections calling for an immediate written explanation detailing the actions of the Hawaii County officials in regard to the absentee ballots and polling places in Kona. Hawaii Republican Party Chairman, David Chang states "Last-minute closures, unannounced changes in procedures, and unexplained personnel changes have compromised the election on the Big Island. Action must be taken to guarantee that the Big Island voters who have the legal right to cast absentee ballots will be able to exercise that right."
Chief Election Officer, State of Hawaii Office of Elections
The Republican Party of Hawaii is gravely concerned that the actions of Hawaii County officials (as described in the enclosed newspaper/web articles) are gravely impacting the rights of Big Island residents to vote and have their votes counted.
Last-minute unannounced closures of offices; last minute unannounced changes in procedures; and similar activities gravely affect the rights of citizens to cast their ballots and have them counted. When the Star-Advertiser story reports that "Yagong said while about 11,000 absentee ballots have been received in Hilo (mailed and walk-in), only seven ballots had been dropped off at the Kona elections office," and when it is clear that this is as a result of the actions of county officials, it is obvious that there is a serious problem here, including possibly a problem of federal and state constitutional dimensions.
Moreover, when the web article states:
Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi on Monday terminated the sole (temporary) employee who was staffing the County Elections Office at West Hawaii Civic Center. The office was left wide open and unattended by any Elections staff all Monday, but employees from other nearby offices were seen trying to help citizens with questions.
At a press conference Monday evening, Kawauchi said she does expect to have somebody back in the office on Tuesday. She did not explain why the clerk was terminated, and said she would not answer personnel questions on the advice of Corporation Counsel, the attorneys for the County. She also said the clerk in Kona was not a county employee, but an employee of the Altres Staffing Agency and suggested calling Altres.
Kawauchi has changed the procedure for absentee ballots. There is a letter posted on the door of the Elections Office in Kona, and also on the door of the Early Walk In Voting office at West Hawaii Civic Center explaining how to handle absentee ballots. Up until yesterday, those with absentee ballots could turn them in at the Kona Elections office, where they were being accepted by the clerk who has now been removed. But now, Kawauchi says absentee ballots must be either taken in person to the Elections Office in Hilo, or mailed to arrive in Hilo by Saturday, or taken to a regular voting precinct on Saturday. She did not explain why she’s made this change.
She is not allowing the three early walk in voting locations on the island to accept absentee ballots. She said that although Hawaii laws (HRS 15-9-2) require that Absentee Ballots be accepted at “polling locations,” the early walk in voting locations are not technically considered “polling locations”.
Kawauchi also said so far, around 10,000 absentee ballots have been received in the mail or brought to the Hilo and Kona Elections offices, out of around 20,000 requested and mailed out (she said she was only able to supply approximate numbers). She acknowledged that some of the envelopes are unsigned but could not say how many. Signatures are required on the outside of the absentee ballot envelopes. She said those voters are given the option of coming to Hilo to sign their ballots; or voting early in Waimea, Kona, or Hilo; or voting at their “regular” precinct on Saturday. She did not say what would happen with any unsigned absentee ballots from those in “orphan” precincts, those without polling places, who now are automatically sent absentee ballots as they have no designated polling place."
It is absolutely clear that the right of voters have been severely impacted. This may be how elections work in third-world dictatorships; it is not how they should work in Hawaii.
We request an immediate written detailed explanation of what has occurred in Kona with regard to absentee ballots, and absentee ballot polling places, and as to why the actions described in the news stories have occurred, and what steps have been taken to insure that those who have the legal right to have absentee ballots cast, will be able to exercise that right and have those votes counted.
Moreover, we request an immediate written detailed explanation of exactly how absentee balloting will be handled on the Big Island for the general election. We would like included in that explanation a list of all places on the Big Island that will constitute absentee polling places pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. § 15-7, and a list of all walk-in sites on the Big Island that will accept absentee ballots. We would like included in that list the dates and hours of each location.
If we are not satisfied that steps are in place to guarantee that the rights of voters on the Big Island are preserved and protected, we will file a lawsuit or lawsuits to ensure that such rights are preserved and protected.
David Chang, Chairman HRP