Get elections running smoothly by November
The primary election brought out familiar problems with the state's voting system.
STATE elections officials, who consistently urge the public to vote, should be careful about what they wish for. Should Hawaii's citizens suddenly shake off their political lethargy and show up at the polls, it is questionable -- judging from past performance -- whether the Office of Elections would have the capacity to handle the flood.
Problems with last week's primary election, which drew just 42.1 percent of registered voters, weren't particularly unusual.
There weren't enough poll workers, as is typical, and some who had been hired didn't show up, including a number who were supposed to supervise precinct stations. As a result, workers who had not received proper training were hurriedly put in charge, causing confusion.
There were delays in opening polling places, some for about a hour, also a common occurrence on election days, frustrating some voters eager to do their civic duty.
There were other disturbing issues, such as a television station's report that elections officials had left ballot boxes in the care of a taxi cab driver while they collected other boxes for delivery to the state Capitol, mixed up cell phones among poll workers so that they could not communicate their problems and questions to officials and late notification of poll closings due to unclear instructions.
Also of concern was the delay in reporting results, which officials say was due to having to compile numbers from two types of voting equipment, one that uses paper ballots and another using electronic machines. Both methods have been operated in previous elections and the elections office had conducted tests beforehand.
Yet officials claimed combining and verifying the counts of the two caused unanticipated delays. They said making sure they had their numbers right was more important than providing results quickly to television stations and newspapers for dissemination to the public.
No one questions the need for verification and no responsible news organization would want to supply readers or viewers with incorrect information.
That's not the issue. Though many of the incidents could be written off as minor glitches, they reflect a lack of professionalism and efficiency that has afflicted the elections office for years. It's as if the agency starts from scratch every time instead of learning from previous experience.
For example, before every election, the office declares it will be short of poll workers. Why officials don't find a way to sign up people in adequate numbers sooner is a mystery.
Gov. Linda Lingle has called for legislative hearings on the elections office, whose director is appointed by a bipartisan, semiautonomous board. Hearings would be appropriate, but the office should get its act together before next month's general election.
Voters require a smooth-running system to trust the integrity of state elections.