DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The new electronic voting machines were tested in the Senate chambers at the State Capitol yesterday.
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Some Hawaii election observers are questioning whether all voters should be permitted to use new electronic voting machines.
Observers from the Democratic and Republican parties and the League of Women Voters said the machines, which will be available in all precincts for the primary election Saturday, should be used only by disabled voters.
They favor limiting use of Hart Intercivic's eSlate electronic voting machines until its manufacturer adds a "paper trail," to allow a manual re-count of the votes.
But state Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina said that while the new machines are intended for disabled voters, other voters can use them if they ask for them.
"I wouldn't do it if I wasn't confident," Yoshina said yesterday.
Although there will not be a paper ballot generated for each electronically cast ballot, "we do have a system that allows us to audit," Yoshina said.
Each electronic voter's ballot will be stored electronically in three places and after polls close will be available for review by election officials, Yoshina said.
Although some people raised questions at a test of the machines yesterday, election observers approved their use in the primary election.
Still, Jason Forester, senior system administrator for Savvis Communications, said the way the eSlate system is designed, all three places where the votes are recorded electronically could be wrong.
"If there was a bug in the software, it would make all the votes agree and all audit perfectly, and they would all be wrong," Forester said.
Forester said he and others, who are calling themselves Safe Vote Hawaii, are concerned enough about using the machines that he set up a Web site this week to raise questions about their use. On it, he notes, "All of these (voting) 'machines' are, in fact, computers. Computer issues with reliability are well documented, often failing in spectacular ways, from programming glitches that crash expensive spaceships into planets to U.S. Navy ships that have to be towed after software failures."
The site includes links to other states that have experienced problems with electronic voting, though not necessarily the same machines as Hawaii is using.
The state has a two-year contract for the use of 399 eSlate electronic voting machines, with full technical support from Hart Intercivic, at a cost of over $3 million, Yoshina said. It's part of a $5 million grant from the federal government to provide better access for handicapped voters.
Machines offer headphones that read ballot choices to sight-disabled voters and large manual controls that assist mobility-impaired voters.
Yesterday several nongovernmental election observers questioned why Hawaii needs to use the technology, without paper backup.
"Our position is that all ballots should be recountable," said Jean Aoki, legislative chairwoman for the Hawaii League of Women Voters.
Aoki called the eSlate machines "terrific for the disabled. We heartily endorse them. It gives them privacy in voting and independence."
However, Aoki said, "especially in this year's election, where we (voters) are so divided already, I feel that it is only prudent, in a state like Hawaii where we do have a perfectly good (voting) system, to limit (the new machines) use to the disabled."
Bob Chung, an election observer for the Republican Party for 18 years, said he found the eSlate machines a little confusing and not very user friendly.
He can accept using them for disabled voters this fall, but wants the state to get updated versions, with paper audits, when they are available.
Richard Port, an observer for the Democratic Party, agreed.
"It's clear that those of us who have been involved in elections will not be satisfied until there is a paper trail for the ballots," Port said.
Also tested yesterday by election officials was the ability to transmit county vote totals via phone lines from the neighbor islands to election headquarters at the Capitol. That technology worked well, said Rex Quidilla, a spokesman for the Office of Elections.
Maui County residents who requested a mail-in absentee ballot but didn't receive it are encouraged to call the Maui County Clerk's office at 270-7749, Quidilla said. The county found that some residents who requested mail-in ballots haven't received them. The cause of the mailing delays is being investigated.