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Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Senate panels move to
kill state elections office

By Richard Borreca

Two key Senate committees have voted to do away with the office of elections and return authority for state elections to the lieutenant governor's office.

Late yesterday, the Ways and Means committee agreed with a recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee to repeal the office of elections.

Legislature The decision, however, was not unanimous, as Sen. David Ige, (D, Pacific Palisades) voted against the proposal. Fellow Democrat Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (Liliha) and Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings (Kailua) said they had strong reservations about the bill.

In testimony before the Judiciary Committee, both the lieutenant governor's office and the government watchdog group Common Cause opposed the bill.

"Several years ago we changed it (authority for state elections) and took it away from the lieutenant governor," Hemmings said. "This appears to be a step backwards."

Supporters of the bill in the Senate, however, argued that returning the elections to the lieutenant governor's office would save appointing a separate position of chief election officer.

Also noting that no group now maintains oversight of the office of elections or is accountable for the office of elections, the Senate committees said the office has no "direct accountability."

The state has an elections appointment panel, but it only has the power to hire and fire the chief election officer and is dependent on the officer for a budget.

The state's present chief election officer, Dwayne D. Yoshina, was unavailable for comment.

He was severely criticized last year by state Republicans who questioned why he negotiated an eight-year contract with a single vote-tabulation firm that was the only company bidding on the process and that was involved in a massive statewide voter recount in 1998.

The Ways and Means Committee also approved a bill requiring a recount if the winning vote margin in any election is within 1 percentage point.

Under present state law, only the courts can order vote recounts and then only if there is proof that the vote tally was incorrect or fraudulent.

The vote recount would be required if the winning candidate got less than 1 percentage point more of the total vote than the second-highest candidate's votes.

Both the League of Women Voters and Common Cause had testified in favor of that bill.

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