going to bid
The chief election officer
says staff and budget cuts left
him with little time to find
a new voting system
By Craig Gima
1998 General Election Results
Chief Election Officer Dwayne Yoshina says he did not get competitive bids when he awarded a $1.675 million contract to Election Systems & Software to provide the voting system for last year's elections because there was not enough time to go through the procurement process.
Instead, the contract was awarded on a "sole source" basis, even though two other companies attempted to submit last-minute bids.
Yoshina said that in late February or March of last year's legislative session he realized budget and personnel cuts would make it difficult, if not impossible, to conduct the elections with the old punch-card system.
Under the old system, state computers and personnel from the state Information and Communication Services Division were used to help count election returns. He said it took six to eight state workers four to six months to prepare for the election, but the division could only spare two people.
During that same period, Elections Systems & Software offered Yoshina a cheaper, more advanced system that would not require as many people to operate.
"We started figuring out that if we went out for a full RFP (request for proposals) at that point in time we probably would not have enough time. So I think at that point in time I made a decision to pursue a sole source," Yoshina said.
In a two-hour interview a few weeks after the general election, Yoshina explained the process that led to the awarding of the election contract, and his account was confirmed during the past few months with others involved in the process.
Yoshina said he was up against a June 30 deadline to sign a contract for the system before the election funds lapsed.
He said he was not aware that other companies offered similar election systems when he began talking with ES&S.
Two other companies -- Global Election Systems and Sequoia Pacific, the company that provided the old system -- contacted Yoshina in late May and met with him in early June in an effort to bid on the contract. But they were told that the process was too far along to accept other bids because the primary election was in September.
"Maybe we were remiss or whatever, we didn't know they were looking at other equipment," said Howard T. Van Pelt, Global's president. "They said it was too late to consider ours. They had already started with brand x and would stay with brand x for a one-year rental."
"We were shocked just because we've been dealing with the state for almost 30 years," said Larry Gilbert, a vice president with Sequoia. "We were not even aware they were looking for anything different."
Gilbert said the company had just purchased machines for a system similar to ES&S's, and wanted to bid on the new contract.
Yoshina indicated to both companies that they would be given an opportunity to bid on the next contract.
Yoshina insists that the state got a good deal with the one-year contract awarded to ES&S, which was cheaper than the cost of printing ballots for the old punch-card system.
"We got the best price for the state," he said, adding that it saved the state $1 million.
ES&S vice president Tom Eschberger said his company lost a lot of money on the Hawaii contract. He said the company had hoped for a long-term contract to recoup its loss.
Eschberger said his timing was perfect and he seemed like "a white knight" when he called Yoshina to pitch his system because the elections office had just concluded that it was not going to be able to run the old punch-card system.
Gilbert said the company wrote a letter to Yoshina and the procurement office with questions about how the contract was awarded and received a response two weeks ago.
"They did have their reasons for doing what they did. We might have looked at it differently but he (Yoshina) has to be responsible for his job and his process, so it's his decision," he said.
Gilbert said the company would be willing to bid on either the punch-card or an optical-reader election system.
The State Procurement Office gave Yoshina approval for a sole-source contract for three reasons. In a procurement document he stated:
ES&S was the only company with a precinct-ballot counter and central-ballot counter certified by both the Federal Election Commission and National Association of State Election Directors.
The central ballot-counter system, which was used to count the absentee ballots, was the only system that used fiber-optic technology to process ballots at high speeds.
ES&S was the only system that had operated a "broadcast box" under election-night conditions to simultaneously broadcast election results to multiple media organizations.
Not true, said Frank Kaplan, the Western regional manager for Global.
He said his company's equipment is certified and the computer system is able to send results to different media organizations and the internet at the same time.
However, Yoshina said Global does not have a high-speed central counter that is certified and can read the same ballots as the precinct counters. Yoshina said that was a key point in selecting an election system for Hawaii because of the large number of absentee ballots here.
The technology in the high-speed counter is different than the precinct-ballot counters.
Kaplan said instead of a single high-speed counter, his company is able to put several precinct counters together with an automatic feeder to achieve a similar result.
Yoshina said Global's precinct counters are not certified when hooked up in sequence.
Yoshina said he and the Office of Elections had been looking at switching to a different voting system since 1982, and that in the last few years it had been increasingly difficult to run the election using the punch-card technology.
He added that he was under pressure from the media to provide faster returns.
"If our requirements were the same as 1972, we would still be with the (punch-card) system, but the requirements have changed," he said.
Dwayne YoshinaJob: Chief election officer
Appointed: February 1995 to a four-year term after holding various positions in the Office of Elections since 1981
Education: Master's of public administration and bachelor of arts, California State University Hayward
Raised: in Kona
Senators hope to learnBy Craig Gima
lesson for next election
The process to select an election system for the year 2000 should be done in the open with public feedback and well in advance of the elections.
That's a lesson to be learned from the decisions that led to the selection of Election Systems & Software to provide the computers and counters for last year's elections, said state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae).
Hanabusa has been pushing for a Senate investigation into the problems created by the new election system.
She said the decision-making process and the lack of competitive bidding in the selection of the election vendor shows the need for oversight of the chief election officer.
"I just can't believe that this is what happened and this is how the decision was made," she said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering a resolution Monday to ask for a full recount by hand of the November election. The call for a recount came after seven precinct ballot counter machines malfunctioned.
In two weeks, the committee will consider another bill to create an oversight panel that would establish performance standards and review the operation of elections and the chief election officer.
"I just don't see how we can let Dwayne Yoshina and the office of elections run independent anymore," Hanabusa said.
If the Legislature creates the oversight panel, Hanabusa said it needs to be given enough time to make the proper decision about an election system.
Judiciary Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) questioned why Yoshina did not know that other companies could provide similar election systems. "Did we really make an effort to get the best quality service for the price?" he asked.
Matsunaga also wondered what role the Legislature had in forcing the decision to go to a new system because of budget cuts to the Information and Communication Services Division.
"Is that really what triggered, in essence, making the old system impossible to use for the election?"
He said the decision to go with a cheaper system may have been "pennywise and pound foolish."
Matsunaga also wondered what would have happened if the new system had worked as was promised.
"If you look at what Yoshina did, if the machines had worked perfectly, there would have been no problem. Now everyone is playing Monday morning quarterback," he said.