Almost halfway through the candidate qualifying period, the process of pulling nomination papers and filing for local races has come to a screeching halt now that the county Elections Division is closed to the public.
But Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto said there still is a way for candidates to pull and file papers even though Big Island offices are closed to the public under a stay-at-home proclamation Gov. David Ige instituted starting March 25. The process is now being conducted by mail, she said.
Only one local candidate has filed or pulled papers since the office closed: Neil Azevedo, division chief for the Highway Division in the county Department of Public Works, on April 4 pulled papers to run for mayor. Azevedo joins a legion of would-be mayoral candidates that includes the county prosecutor, a current councilman, a former councilman, a former councilwoman’s father, a former department head and 12 others.
Both Nakamoto and County Clerk Jon Henricks said county officials and employees have no special access to the Elections Office.
“Everybody needs to file the same way,” Nakamoto said. “We’re not making any exceptions to anyone.”
Nakamoto and Henricks, who oversees the Elections Division, said they’re not making any judgment or comment on how candidates go about gathering signatures in this social distancing environment.
“We’re not telling candidates how to go about getting signatures,” Nakamoto said. “We’re just issuing the papers and then let candidates figure out how.”
Henricks said running a public election is challenging during this pandemic.
“The process is inherently a public process. It generally requires interaction,” Henricks said.”We’re not stopping this process because of the order. Maybe perhaps it could be read the public process is essential.”
Candidates must complete their paperwork, gather verified signatures, pay their fee and file by June 2 if they want to be on the ballot. Candidates can download the application to pull papers at https://elections.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/Application-for-a-Nomination-Paper-fillable.pdf. It can then be mailed to the Elections Office at 25 Aupuni Street, Suite 1502 Hilo, HI 96720.
Nakamoto encourages those seeking to pull papers or file them to call 961-8277 for more information. While the office is closed to the public, “essential intermittent” employees continue working Mondays to answer calls from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We have someone who will talk them through all the processes of filing their nominations,” Nakamoto said.
Nakamoto urged registered voters to sign and return the yellow signature capture cards they should have recently received in the mail. Residents can register to vote and update their registration for the Aug. 8 primary and Nov. 3 general election at olvr.hawaii.gov.
The county Elections Division processes paperwork for local offices, which this year includes the mayor’s race, all nine County Council seats and the county prosecutor’s race. It also processes paperwork for state and federal candidates.
State and federal candidates can also pull papers and file at the state Office of Elections in Honolulu. There, they can do it in person, although certain steps like filling out forms in advance need to be taken to minimize staff interaction.
Federal and state candidates may fax their nomination paper to the Office of Elections at 453-6006 for signature verification prior to filing.
“This is unprecedented times,” state Election Officer Scott Nago said. “We’re just trying to do our best to accommodate anyone who wants to file for office while still maintaining the health and safety of our staff.”