Maui County, HI Scrambles to Fill Vacancies in Election Office

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Hawaii’s Maui County is scrambling to meet a January 31 deadline to replace its top two election officials after they resigned to join the mayor’s office. MauiNews has more:

New Maui County Council Chairwoman Alice Lee hopes to have candidates lined up for the Maui County clerk and deputy clerk positions — the county’s top two elections officials — in about two weeks.

She called the situation a “serious bind.”

Former Maui County Clerk Josiah Nishita and his deputy, Maggie Clark, resigned their posts last month and are now headed for positions in the administration of Mayor Michael Victorino. The resignations may have been the tipping point for the council as it unseated Kelly King as chairwoman last month.

Initially, Victorino gave the council until Jan. 15 to find replacements, but Lee said Monday afternoon that Victorino has been “flexible” and has extended the deadline until Jan. 31 for Nishita and Clark to continue in their old positions.

After Jan. 31, Nishita will be deputy managing director and Clark will head to Victorino’s budget office, Lee said.

Maui County Assistant Communications Director Chris Sugidono said Monday that Nishita is scheduled to serve as county clerk until Jan. 31 and Clark in her old position until at least Jan. 15.

There are suggestions the resignations may have been related to friction with the former county council chair:

Nishita declined to comment on his resignation and Clark could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Those who work in the council offices and with the council said King had issues with staff at both the clerk’s office and Office of Council Services. They offered their assessments anonymously for fear of possible retaliation. King disputed those assessments.

Council members at a meeting Dec. 27 voted 7 to 2 to elect Lee as new chairwoman. Those voting against were King and Council Member Shane Sinenci.

Whatever the reason, the departures leave Maui in a very difficult situation with huge elections – including the transition to vote-by-mail – on tap in 2020:

The departures of the leaders in the clerk’s office come in an election year with the primary election on Aug. 8 and the general election on Nov. 3. This year also will feature for the first time elections by mail.

“We are in a serious bind here,” Lee said Monday afternoon. “The mayor knows we are in a pickle, he’s trying to be flexible and help us out.”

To compound the situation, Lee noted that the elections administrator in the Office of the County Clerk also recently retired, leaving a larger management void.

“Every day (without a clerk) pushes us back. So I would say we are going to be moving on this as super quickly as we can,” Lee said. “And by the time we have our chair’s meeting, I’m hoping to have some viable candidates to present to the council members for their consideration.”

To make things even more complicated, the county elections office is facing a physical move as well:

Lee is planning to have the chair’s meeting on Jan. 24, when no legislation will be handled but council operational matters will be discussed. This includes possibly relocating the clerk’s Elections Division to the David K. Trask Jr. Office Building next door to the Kalana O Maui building.

Lee said there is not enough room in the Kalana O Maui building and the county Liquor Control Department space in the Trask building would be a good spot. The department will be moving to the new Maui County Service Center in Puunene, though administration officials have said that the second floor where the department will go will not be completed until mid-2021.

Lee said preparations already are getting underway for the elections with staff soon to be sent to Oahu for training…

The state Office of Elections on Monday said it had no comment on the Maui situation regarding the clerks.

The council may be looking for internal candidates, even as a stopgap, to get through 2020:

Lee said it could be easier to find a replacement for Nishita and Clark within the “system” because of the familiarity with how the Office of the County Clerk works.

She said the appointments could be temporary, if need be, through the upcoming elections. The council could then seek a longer term solution.

“But then again, I don’t know, we might get really lucky,” she said.

[The mayor’s office]  said via email that the administration puts its faith in the council to “do their due diligence in finding qualified and capable replacements.”

“We believe the integrity of Maui County’s elections system must always be protected, and we will provide whatever support we can to the council,” he said.

Needless to say, this is a tough spot for Maui County as 2020 begins. Here’s hoping the council can identify one or more individuals to help with elections in the short term and begin the process of identifying a long-term solution for the office. If nothing else, there are probably lots of election officials in snowy communities nationwide daydreaming about the prospect of running elections in Maui’s sunnier climate. Aloha and stay tuned …

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