Ever since former Congressman Neil Abercrombie stepped down from the 1st Congressional District to run for governor, how the state paid for the special election to fill the seat has been in dispute.

Initial estimates and early claims by Abercrombie’s Democratic opponent Mufi Hannemann suggested that the special election cost as much as $1 million.

In an interview with the Big Island News Center, Abercrombie said: “The $1 million figure is one of those urban legends that’s out there. The figure was nowhere near that. The money was clearly there. Again, we had provided it from the federal side…. The money was there to be spent for the special election.” (see 6:30 of the video)

Neil Abercrombie Interview Part 1 from Apachewolf on Vimeo.

According to the Hawaii Office of Elections, it cost the state $670,000 (not $1 million) to host the special election. But the federal government only chipped in $291,000 through the Help America Vote Act.

Laurie Au, Abercrombie’s campaign spokeswoman, said the candidate stands by his statements.

“In Neil’s view, the federal funds were there to pay for (the special election) because it was misplaced due to an accounting error by the Lingle administration,” Au said. “Then it was Lingle’s decision to pay for it using money appropriated for neighbor island school repairs and money for the Office of Elections.”

Abercrombie’s campaign website points to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin article that reports the state accidentally placed $1.3 million from the federal government in a voters’ assistance fund — not the general fund, as originally intended.

“Neil’s quote and Neil’s understanding of the costs of the special election was largely based off of comments made by (Department of Accounting and General Services Director) Russ Saito and (Office of Elections Chief) Scott Nago in the media,” said Au. “So you might want to check with them.”

Civil Beat called Saito, who confirmed that there had been an accounting error. After the state paid for previous elections, Saito said the federal government accidentally reimbursed the federal elections office instead of the general fund.

“The money should have come in reimbursements to the general fund. But instead it went to elections office,” Saito said. “So we took that money and put it back into the general fund.”

Saito said the funds were not originally provided for the special election — as Abercrombie suggests. The money could have been used to buy new voting machines or other equipment.

In the end, the state paid the remaining $379,000 it cost to put on the special election.