Time is short for officials to prepare for fall elections
The state Office of Elections is still without a contractor to run this fall's elections.
Hawaii voters this fall will choose a new president, members of Congress, state legislators, county mayors and councils and other representatives, but whether a new voting system will be operational by the time they get to the polls remains up in the air.
With just months to go before the September primary election, a contract the state Office of Elections awarded to one company is being challenged by another and the issue isn't likely to be settled until next month.
That leaves a narrow window to install -- and thoroughly test -- software, computers and other devices that will record, count, print and transmit data from hundreds of voting sites on Oahu as well as the neighbor islands. In addition, a new system and equipment will require elections officials and poll workers be instructed and become familiar with their use.
With a presidential election on tap and an increase in the number of new voters, polling places can be expected to be busy this year. Though Kevin Cronin, the state's chief elections officer who began the job four months ago, says his agency doing is its best to prepare for voting, the delay caused by the dispute will undoubtedly make difficult the first polling to be conducted under his watch.
Cronin last week was told that the state Procurement Office would not exempt his office from procurement laws to give a temporary contract to Hart InterCivic Inc. of Austin, Texas, to run this year's primary and general elections.
The exemption was needed because a 10-year, $43 million contract earlier awarded Hart was challenged by another company, Election Systems & Software, that bid $18 million for the same job. ES&S contends that Hart's bid is exorbitant and that bidding rules did not properly weigh a system's cost, evaluating price tag as only 15 percent of a bid's score.
After the elections office denied its appeal, ES&S protested to the procurement agency, which then required the elections office to conduct an analysis to see if Hart's price was reasonable. Noting in testimony to the Legislature in April that his office was "beyond the 11th hour" in preparing for elections, Cronin sought approval for issuing Hart the one-year contract, which was rejected since all parties had already agreed to the analysis.
The office's initial long-term contract itself seemed imprudent because voting technology is continually being modified and federal criteria for elections nationwide have yet to be established.
With the office being no stranger to voting-day and ballot-counting hitches, its current problems, even under new management, doesn't instill the public with much confidence.