Let state auditor
oversee the recount
The Judiciary co-chairman
says Higa has the community's
confidence and trust
House GOP seeks federal probe.By Craig Gima
State Auditor Marion Higa may be asked to oversee a recounting of the 1998 general election in an effort to restore public confidence in the election process, a key senator said today.
"I think there's a tremendous amount of confidence and trust in the community at large with Ms. Higa, and maybe she's an option we should take a look at," said Senate Judiciary Committee co-chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei).
Chumbley spoke after a 7-1/2 hour hearing on a Senate resolution asking for election results to be recounted by hand. Officials have said machine malfunctions in seven of 334 precincts resulted in miscounted votes. A decision on how senators will proceed with a recount or audit is expected tomorrow when the Judiciary Committee meets again.
Unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle urged senators to have someone besides Chief Election Officer Dwayne Yoshina supervise the recount.
"Mr. Yoshina should not be allowed to supervise the recount or to investigate himself," she said, adding that the same principle should apply to Election Systems & Software.
The hearing, which ended at 1:30 a.m., was marked by sometimes tedious and occasionally testy exchanges between senators and representatives of Election Systems & Software, the company that supplied the voting system to the state under a $1.675 million no-bid contract.
Geoff Ryan, senior vice president of ES&S, apologized for the machine malfunctions and reiterated the company's position that it believes the rest of the vote count is accurate and the company is willing to pay for a recount of the more than 400,000 ballots cast in the general election.
But Ryan urged the senators to consider using its high speed counters to audit the ballots rather than a hand count because of concerns over accuracy and speed. He said machines other than the ones that malfunctioned would be used and added that other companies' machines are not designed to count ES&S ballots.
Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) questioned ES&S officials about when and how they realized there was a problem with with a machine in a precinct in her district. She also pressed Ryan about whether the company would pay for a hand recount if the Senate demanded it.
Ryan told Hanabusa, "What I'm saying is that a manual recount with 400,000 ballots, senator, and millions of votes, is begging for error."
She replied, "Maybe that's what this community will have to see, a manual recount, and if we have to face that, maybe we have to face it. I just find it difficult to believe that they are going to be satisfied using your machines when your machines have failed."
But the Senate appears to be moving away from the idea of a hand count.
"A hand recount is prohibitive because of the length of time," said Judiciary Co-chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo).
Yoshina told senators a recount by hand could take anywhere from two to six months to complete. He also said he would support the idea of another entity besides the Office of Elections supervising the audit.
The League of Women Voters and Common Cause Hawaii also testified against hand counting the ballots. They suggested that the counting machines could be tested to identify those machines that work properly and the results can be verified by running them through a second machine, backed up by hand counts in selected precincts.
Senators spent three hours questioning Yoshina about the problems with the precinct counting machines, and about how the contract was awarded without getting bids from other companies with similar systems.
State procurement administrator Lloyd Unebasami said he concured with Yoshina's request for a "sole source" contract because Yoshina represented to him that only ES&S had machines that were certified by both the Federal Election Commission and the National Association of State Election Directors.
Russell Suzuki and Aaron Schulaner of the attorney general's office told senators that the Office of Elections can audit or review the results of the elections.
But even it it turned up a different result, the election has already been certified, and "Any audit at this time would not affect the finality of the general election," Schulaner said.
Hanabusa questioned the deputy attorneys general about a law that allows any member of the public to examine ballots after an election is certified.
Suzuki said Alex Sonson and Gerald Hagino, who lost close elections in the primary, were allowed to look at the ballots. But he said because there are no administrative rules established to set up a procedure to look at ballots, most requests are denied.
"Where under the law does it allow you to deny a right created by law because of administrative rules?" Hanabusa asked.
Suzuki replied that the agency has to be able to balance its ability to continue to perform its duties against other public demands.
He said it could take up to 18 months to get administrative rules approved through the public hearing process.
House GOP wants U.S.
to investigate vote
The state House Republican Caucus is asking for a federal investigation into the 1998 elections.
In a letter sent yesterday to U.S. Attorney Steven Alm, all 12 House Republicans requested that Alm "intervene in this matter so that our confidence in the election system may be restored."
Alm today said he could not confirm or deny current or planned investigations to see whether federal laws were broken. He said the information would be made public only if a criminal indictment resulted.
House Minority Leader Barbara Marumoto (R, Waialae Iki) said voters have provided anecdotal information that raised concerns, and have asked the Republican Party to look into them.
"Most of us are very uneasy about the entire process," Marumoto said.
Rep. David Pendleton (R, Kailua) said he has received calls from voters of both parties. Some say they marked ballots with ink, others with pencil, he said.
"In a close race, who knows whether that might have made a difference," Pendleton said. "People can live with losing if it's a fair fight, but if it's a computer error, they can't take it."
Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki) said he has received calls from constituents who thought they were registered, but couldn't vote because they were not listed at the polls.
The letter to Alm included a list of allegations that, among other items, charged:
Faulty operation of ballot machines.
A failure by the State Office of Elections to disclose the faulty operations.
Ballots thrown out or missing from precincts.