Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Election recount

Bullet The issue: General election recount
Bullet Our view: Results are reassuring

THE recount of Hawaii's general election was highly reassuring. The alarmist claims of widespread errors that might cast doubt on the outcome of many races proved false. In fact, the recount of more than 412,000 votes verified the original results in every state and local election.

This was a resounding vote of confidence that should not have been necessary. Although ballot-counting machines malfunctioned in at least seven precincts, the new system overall proved its reliability.

And the state's election organization won praise from the highly respected state auditor, Marion Higa, who said: "The citizens of Hawaii can rest easy. (Their) elections have great integrity. The elections at both the state level and the local level are in good hands."

The Legislature was stampeded into calling for the recount on the basis of insufficient information.

It would have been more appropriate to make spot checks of questionable results around the state to determine whether the problem of malfunctioning machines was widespread before ordering a total recount. As it turned out, the problem was limited and the overall count was accurate. The results should eliminate any possibility of returning to the old punch-card system.

That served its purpose for decades but has become obsolete. The system introduced in last year's elections had some bugs, which is often the case with new technology, but it or something comparable should be retained for future use.

One sound suggestion emerging from the situation would require a recount whenever the margin between candidates -- or yes and no votes on ballot issues -- was 1 percent or less.

In any counting system, the possibility of error exists. Provision for such an automatic recount would be helpful in maintaining public confidence.


Crime rates drop

Bullet The issue: Latest crime figures
Bullet Our view: Reductions in crime rates defy economic weakness

THE theory that crime increases when the economy is weak doesn't seem to apply to Hawaii's current situation. Despite the stagnating economy, crime rates in Honolulu are plunging.

Homicides fell a stunning 50 percent last year from 1997, to 17 -- the lowest since 1967. The most serious crimes continued to drop for the third consecutive year. Overall, violent crimes in Honolulu fell from a peak of 2,882 in 1995 to 2,342 in 1998. Property crimes fell from a peak of 64,263 in 1995 to 45,111 last year.

What's going on? Police Chief Lee Donohue said one factor is an effort to prevent domestic violence. Community patrols and neighborhood watch groups also helped. Mayor Harris said, "Communities have mobilized. Everybody has taken responsibility for keeping crime out."

Pleasing as the numbers are, nobody is claiming victory in the war on crime. Even the lower numbers are too high. And no one can be sure that the trend downward won't be reversed.

The Honolulu Police Department has been targeted by mainland departments for recruiting and faces the loss of many experienced officers seeking higher pay. But the city can't afford to match the mainland offers, although Harris says the city is working with the state and neighbor islands on packages to be presented to police officers.

Honolulu can't afford to let the Police Department deteriorate -- or to ease up on crime prevention measures.


North Korean accord

Bullet The issue: Monitoring of North Korean nuclear sites
Bullet Our view: Approval of nuclear inspection comes at a price

NORTH Korea has agreed to give U.S. inspectors access to a site where it is suspected of making nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement. But the agreement comes with a price. While insisting food donations would not be part of any deal, the United States earlier this month pledged 500,000 tons of additional food aid. North Korea demanded 1 million tons.

Earlier Kim Jong-il's regime had outrageously demanded $300 million as the price for access.

The claim that food donations would not be part of any deal is a distinction without a difference. North Korea has again wrung a valuable concession from the Clinton administration in return for living up to a prior commitment. And there is no assurance that the Pyongyang regime will not renege once more and demand further concessions.

Under the 1994 agreement, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program, in exchange for energy supplies and help from the United States, South Korea and Japan in providing a new nuclear-power plant that would not generate weapons-grade material. The dispute over the suspect site raised concerns that Pyongyang had found a way around the accord to go ahead with its weapons program.

Famine-stricken, impoverished North Korea undoubtedly could use another 500,000 tons of food, and Americans do not object to helping people in needy.

But it is far from certain that the aid is going to starving people. There are reliable reports that the regime has been diverting the aid to the military, leaving other people to die. Washington should demand that the North Koreans eliminate all restrictions on international inspectors to ensure that the food is going to the people for whom it is intended.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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