Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Election results show
savvy voter understanding


Voters defeated two Legislature incumbents, but many votes went uncounted because of flaws in filling out ballots.

HAWAII voters were astute in expressing their disdain for legislators flaunting campaign spending regulations and their unwillingness to cast votes that would have been purely symbolic. Unfortunately, many of the ballots were invalidated, showing a need to tweak the system to make sure more votes are counted.

Most notable among the grit displayed at the ballot boxes on Saturday was the defeat of Sen. Cal Kawamoto, the main obstacle in the Legislature to campaign spending reform. Waipahu Democrats instead nominated political novice Clarence Nishihara, a retired public school vice principal, who will face no opposition on the November ballot. Nishihara focused his campaign on Kawamoto's campaign spending violation, which resulted in a $21,250 fine levied in July by the Campaign Spending Commission.

Kawamoto weakened a campaign reform bill in last year's Legislature, pushing a provision that would have changed a part of the law that he violated. The bill died because of his insistence on the change in a House-Senate conference. In this year's session, Kawamoto tried to weaken the existing campaign spending reform law until other senators rose in opposition.

Democrats in Kahuku and Kaneohe issued a similar pink slip to Sen. Melodie Aduja, a lawyer who was fined $9,000 by the commission for illegal campaign expenditures made last year. She was accused of allowing her then-husband, Lee Williams, who was deputy chairman of her 2002 campaign, to withdraw more than $30,000 in cash from her campaign chest. Williams, a convicted felon, was arrested in April, eight months after their divorce, in a drug sweep in Chinatown. The voters instead chose former legislator Clayton Hee to face Republican Jim Henshaw in the general election.

Democrats in the Waipahu-Ewa Beach House district prudently opted for Rida Cabanilla over incumbent Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, who has volunteered for National Guard active duty in Iraq. Pentagon rules would have forbidden her from remaining in the Legislature if she had been elected. Cabanilla will face Republican Trevor Koch in November.

Candidates who lost close races were chagrined by the record number of ballots that were invalidated because of voter errors in filling them out, wondering what the results would have been if all votes had counted. The faulty ballots -- 9,559, or 3.8 percent of the 248,683 cast -- can be attributed to the unprecedented 79,276 absentee ballots -- nearly 32 percent of all votes cast, continuing a growth in every election for more than a decade.

At polling stations, ballots that included votes for more than one party were rejected by machines and the voters were told to try again. The same system can be used to catch faulty absentee ballots cast at polling stations in advance of the Saturday election.

The voter error is understandable since the party races are shown on the same page of the ballot. The corrective action is unavailable for absentee ballots sent to the Elections Office by mail. The problem could be reduced by placing party races on separate pages for ballots to be mailed, along with the bold admonition that voters should choose one party and discard the other pages.




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