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StarBulletin.com

Office wants more money for elections


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POSTED: Thursday, July 23, 2009

State elections chief Kevin Cronin continues to plead for at least $113,000 more to run his office this year, but Gov. Linda Lingle is holding firm, saying she won't release the money.

Cronin appeared yesterday before the state Elections Commission, which hired him, to explain that because of spending restrictions of $2.8 million by the Legislature and $113,000 by Lingle, the Elections Office will have money to pay salaries but will be unable to pay its utility bills after August.

Cronin said the Legislature reserved $2.8 million to pay for new ballot-counting machines and software, but it also changed his staff to civil service, which meant increased salary costs.

“;The plan is to go ahead and spend what little money we have to do what has traditionally been done to prepare for elections in the state of Hawaii over the last 10 years,”; Cronin said.

The state budget office, however, restricted $113,000 from the Elections Office, saying this is what would have been saved if the state had been permitted to furlough state workers.

Cronin said he's trying to trim spending but needs to fill four vacancies and hire more than a dozen temporary workers. He worries that if the money isn't spent this year, he will be unable to plan and prepare for next year's elections.

“;We are in a perfect storm—the cost of elections is what it is, the state economy is what it is and we are where we are,”; Cronin said.

To Lingle, the answer is still “;No.”;

Asked if she would release the restricted money, Lingle said, “;We are not going to do that.”; She added, “;Every department is dealing with the same level of restriction and having to make adjustments and continue to operate and they are going to have to do the same.

“;We simply don't have the money we thought we would have and these restrictions will remain in place.”;

Some of the Elections Commission's nine commissioners told Cronin he should start planning for the elections to be held with the current restricted budget.

“;This is what it is and we have to be proactive and positive—people are doing more with much less,”; commissioner Yuki Lee Sugimura said.

Also urging changes was Brian Schatz, state Democratic Party chairman, who said elections are a critical issue and the state should consider mail-in ballots.

“;I'm proposing that we take a serious look at the exclusive vote-by-mail option, which seems to increase turnout,”; Schatz said in an e-mail message.

During the meeting, Cronin said he supported bills in the Legislature to hold elections only by mail as is done in Oregon and Washington state, but said the bill failed to win any support.

Cronin said the state attorney general, when asked specifically, said the Elections Office could not simply mail all registered voters a ballot.