STAR-BULLETIN / 2006
The state Office of Elections refused yesterday to reconsider its voting machine contract with Texas-based Hart InterCivic. Here, a worker demonstrates how the new voter-verifiable paper audit trail works in conjunction with a Hart InterCivic disabled access electronic voting machine.
Voting machine pact stands despite appeal
A rival of the firm that won the state contract protests the deal's price as "exorbitant"
The state Office of Elections rejected yesterday an appeal to reconsider awarding a $43 million voting machine contract to Hart InterCivic.
The Texas-based firm won a state contract to provide ballot-counting machines and software for the next decade of Hawaii elections. ES&S, a Nebraska firm that bid to perform the contract for $19 million, protested the award.
Local attorney Terry Thomason, representing ES&S, said the state was wasting money by selecting Hart InterCivic.
"They are willing to squander taxpayer funds to ensure Hart receives the contract, regardless of the merits of the ES&S proposal," Thomason said in a Feb. 20 protest to the Elections Office.
The ballot machine firm, which furnished the optical scanner machines used in the past five Hawaii elections, asked that the bid award be rescinded and given to ES&S.
"ES&S contends that Hart's price is exorbitant and unreasonable," Thomason said.
The Honolulu lawyer complained that the bidding rules assigned the system's price as worth only 15 percent of the total proposed evaluation score.
"Because the assigned price was so low, Hart was not disadvantaged in the scoring by its extraordinarily high price," Thomason said in his complaint.
But Kevin Cronin, state chief elections officer, said protests about the weighting formula should have been made before bidding.
"ES&S did not in any manner at any time question, challenge, contest, or in any way express any concern about the ... cost price analysis or the relative weighting of pricing," Cronin wrote in his decision.
Price is not the only important way to gauge a bid, Cronin said. The Hart offering had more in it than the ES&S proposal, according to Cronin.
"These significant elections day enhancements were not included in and would not be provided by ES&S' proposal.
"The result is that Hart's proposal in fact offers, establishes, and provides more value added to the voters and the state of Hawaii than the petitioner's proposal would," Cronin wrote.
The winning bid, Cronin said, "can and should allow the state to obtain election results in a more accurate and timely manner."
Election observers, however, say they are concerned about the contracts awarded to conduct Hawaii elections.
Bart Dame, a Democratic Party member and a spokesman for Safe Vote Hawaii, said the state was pushing ahead with a 10-year contract with one vendor at a time when vote-counting technology is changing.
"Federal standards have yet to be agreed on. Nationwide there is a turn away from electronic voting machines," Dame said.
The Hart plan offers both an electronic or computerized voting machine, which can be used by disabled voters, or an optical scanning machine along with paper ballots.
Hawaii law requires that whatever machine is used, it must include a paper record of the votes cast.