Thursday, June 18, 1998

Foolish policy on
voter registration forms

STATE election officials have their priorities wrong on voter registration. Instead of going all out to improve Hawaii's abysmal record -- the state has the lowest percentage in the nation of registered voters compared with voting-age population -- the officials are worried about wasting money. So they ration voter registration forms to civic groups.

As the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca reported, a representative of Linda Lingle's gubernatorial campaign complained about the policy. The representative, Bob Awana, said he was first told he would be limited to 300 forms but was later informed it would be 300 forms a month. Awana said he was told the policy was intended to prevent waste, to ensure that forms weren't thrown away. "Why would I throw them away?" he asked. "I'm trying to register the people."

Estelle Allen, the state voter services coordinator, explained that in the past civic groups would take out thousands of forms but sign up only a handful of new voters. The new policy is intended to prevent that.

There is a way to get around the 300-form limit -- by requesting more forms under the name of another person or organization. Another way is to take a master form to a printer and run off as many copies as the group is willing to pay for.

It shouldn't be necessary to go through such contortions. The entire budget for printing voter registration forms is just $32,000. We don't like waste either, but surely it is better to err on the side of excess when the goal is the very important one of getting more people registered and the dollars involved are few. Voter registration is a volunteer effort, and people who are willing to get involved should be encouraged.

This stinginess is particularly questionable when the complainant is the campaign of a Republican candidate for governor. Restricting the number of registration forms issued to the Lingle campaign could be viewed as an attempt by the Democratic administration to hamper Republican registration efforts.

After Borreca called the elections office to inquire about Awana's complaint, Awana was informed that Lingle's campaign could have more forms. Evidently some official realized that the restrictive policy wouldn't look good, particularly when it could be interpreted to be motivated by partisan politics. But if Awana hadn't gone to a reporter with his story, would he have been given more forms?


Autonomy for UH

THE University of Hawaii was a big winner at the 1998 session of the Legislature and Governor Cayetano capped the victory by signing the UH autonomy bill into law. This is something like the Magna Carta for the university, freeing it from stifling state restraints on its operations.

Info Box Of great significance is the exemption from state procurement and concession laws, which should enable the university to handle the 35,000-40,000 items bought each month more quickly and efficiently. It authorizes the Board of Regents to define what should be included in the university's annual inventory, which now is a time-consuming affair involving every item worth more than $200, down to every football helmet and chair. That minimum value may be raised to $1,000.

The measure allows the university to establish a retirement system outside the state system, which would enable the UH to compete more effectively for older professors. It takes 10 years to become vested in the state system, a problem in recruiting senior faculty members, who are usually over 45 years old. Now the university may offer vesting after five years.

The law authorizes the UH to hire its own lawyers, rather than relying on the attorney general's office for legal representation. It allows the university to set fees and charges, including athletic events, without going through the state's lengthy public proceedings process.

UH President Kenneth Mortimer, who lobbied hard for these changes, said the law will permit the university to respond more quickly and effectively to problems and to handle its own affairs without going through the state bureaucracy.

Mortimer is considering credit cards for department heads instead of purchase orders and receipts so they can buy anything worth less than $500 without a lot of paperwork. He said, "We're going to take some risks, but hopefully they'll be risks that we can document while we're taking them and we're going to figure out better ways to do it."

The governor called the measure the beginning of a new era of independence for the UH. We see it as essential to enable the university to reach for a higher level of excellence. That will benefit everyone in Hawaii.


Confidential sources

FREEDOM of information scored a victory when Circuit Judge Kevin K.C. Chang rejected subpoenas by the Bishop Estate to question the attorney general and a Star-Bulletin reporter about the leaking of confidential information.

Chang found no evidence that an order protecting information that was used in a news report about estate employee Milton Holt's entertainment expenses had been violated. He ruled that estate attorneys had failed to prove that reporter Rick Daysog obtained the information after the protective order was issued or that it came from the attorney general's office.

The Star-Bulletin's attorney, Margaret Jenkins Leong, said Chang had applied the doctrine of qualified privilege, meaning that there has to be a showing of cause before a subpoena can be issued to a reporter or editor to reveal confidential sources.

The right to protect confidential sources is essential to independent reporting and to fulfilling the news media's function of informing the public. Chang's ruling has the effect of strengthening the media's ability to do its job.

Bishop Estate Archive

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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