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Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, December 16, 2001


Special Council election
is pricey

At times, it has appeared that there were more people standing in line to criticize Dwayne Yoshina and his crew than were waiting to vote.

Hawaii has had no shortage of critics of the way the state's Office of Elections handles the job of running our elections.

Here now comes good reason to point to something that Yoshina, the state's chief election officer, has done exactly right.

Since 1994 he and the Office of Elections have faithfully trundled down to the Capitol every year to implore the Legislature to allow mail-in voting.

It would save money, he said. It would speed-up voting, he added. And it would probably get more people to vote, he argued.

Nope, too radical, too tricky, too untested, the Legislature would respond.

It is too bad the Legislature never allowed it, because in six weeks we will spend $250,000 for a special election that is not likely to attract more than a handful of voters.

The election will be to fill the vacancy left when Andy Mirikitani was sentenced to four years in federal prison for paying out city money to his staff and then demanding it back as a contribution.

Now that Mirikitani is gone, we have to hold a special election to fill the vacancy. It is just for one year, then Manoa-Makiki voters will select a new full-term council member.

Let's do some fast math on this election with figures provided by City Clerk Jenny Wong, who is in charge of running the election.

There are a total of 44,000 eligible voters in the district, but only 36,000 have voted in the last two elections, so the real number of expected voters is 36,000.

No one knows how many people are going to turn out, but the last time we had a special election was in 1985 when three Council seats were vacant. The turnout was 38 percent.

That means if all 44,000 Manoa-Makiki voters are alive and still in the district, we could have a total of 16,720 voting. Or if you believe like Wong that the voting universe holds only 36,000, then the turnout could be 13,680.

Now the math gets cruel. Remember, the election is going to cost $250,000 -- so if 13,680 vote, we are spending $18.27 a voter. If 36,000 vote we are spending $14.95 a voter. And finally if all 44,000 possible voters in the district show up we are still spending $5.68 a voter.

To her credit, the city clerk is working to cut costs and is urging all the voters to mail in absentee ballots.

But that is not the same as a mail-in election when everyone votes by mail.

Oregon has had the most success with mail-in voting, but the first one was actually held in Monterey, Calif., in 1977.

After a study in 1997, the Federal Election Commission ticked off the reasons why mail-in elections were so cheap and efficient. "No polling places includes no polling place leases, telephones, utilities; no searching for or preparation of accessible locations; no frantic phone calls about locked doors; no preparation, set-up, tear-down, or emergency repairs of voting machines or devices; no confusion about where people must go to vote.

"With a mail-in ballot, critics theorize that abusive spouses, bosses, or other influential people could coerce individual voters with little fear that they would be reported to election officials. In the hundreds of elections conducted by mail so far, however, there has been scant evidence validating this concern," the commission concluded.

Even without mail-in voting we have had the same sort of criticism in Honolulu elections, where people report that candidates walk through a district and "help" voters fill out their absentee ballots. But, it has never been a major problem.

Perhaps the city clerk could just send the bill for the special election to the Legislature instead of any future testimony on the benefits of mail-in voting.





Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at rborreca@starbulletin.com.



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