By Sam Slom and Gene Ward
The state Elections Commission just voted behind closed doors to give a $10,000 pay raise to chief election officer Scott Nago, who will now be paid $90,000.
Wait – what? Just last November, the commission grilled Nago about his role in the well-publicized election blunders that affected Puna voters during the August 2014 primary election. In the wake of Tropical Storm Iselle and damage to roads caused by severe weather, Puna residents were unsure how the upcoming primary election would be handled. Nago responded with a proclamation that the election would be postponed for the affected precincts and that it would be done by mail-in ballot. But just two days later, he reversed course and announced that the election would be done by in-person voting instead.
HIS SEE-SAWING upset and frustrated Puna voters who thought they would have time to take care of basic needs like food, water, and shelter – only to have to drop everything to vote in person – never mind that some of those residents didn’t hear about the change in time due to communications still being down, and others didn’t have access to the polling place because some roads were still blocked.
And let’s not forget he was the head guy in charge during the 2012 general election, when Oahu voters arrived at polling places only to find long lines caused by a completely preventable shortage of paper ballots. About 51, or one-third, of Oahu’s 142 precincts experienced ballot shortages, and the public was outraged with such lack of planning for such a simple matter.
Fast forward to April 2015, and the elections commissioners were still debating among themselves the best way to evaluate the performance of Hawaii’s top elections official whose job it is to oversee our elections system. But then in its May 18 meeting, the Elections Commission voted 6-3 to keep Nago on the job.
So what are the people of Hawaii to think of its government rewarding a chief election officer with a checkered history of competence by giving him a $10,000 pay raise? To our way of thinking, this sends the wrong message and is an irresponsible use of state funds.
HAWAII’S voter turnout is already one of the lowest in the nation, and this gives more credence to the cynics who claim their votes don’t count, or participating in Hawaii’s elections makes no difference.
We should all expect more from our democracy, and now more from Nago that his pay grade has increased and reached such a level where there is little wiggle room for any of his past election performances.
With this in mind, the 2015 Legislature passed House Bill 15 to keep an eye on Nago. HB 15 was signed into law as Act 173 last month and makes the chief election officer an at-will employee and requiring a public hearing on the chief election officer’s performance for purposes of deciding retention.
A wiser Elections Commission would have waited for this bill and a public hearing to take effect before rewarding his past behavior.
State Senator Sam Slom, left, and
Representative Gene Ward are members of the state Legislature representing East Oahu.