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Elections agency will not fill 4 positions


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POSTED: Friday, August 21, 2009

Caught in a financial squeeze by the state's budget shortfall, the Hawaii Office of Elections has decided to pay its utility and other overhead costs for the rest of the fiscal year instead of filling four key positions as the 2010 elections approach.

The positions, which include a supervisor to oversee the preparation and transportation of ballots, will go vacant until at least early next year, when the Legislature reconvenes.

Like other agencies, the office's spending has been cut because of the state's budget shortfall.

Last month chief election officer Kevin Cronin told the state Elections Commission those cuts would leave his agency with only $14,000 if it filled the four positions. That would have been enough to pay electricity and overhead expenses only into September, he said then.

On Wednesday Cronin said the agency had decided to instead leave the four jobs vacant.

In addition to a ballot operations section chief, the agency will not hire a warehouse supervisor, who oversees the loading and unloading of trucks carrying ballots and other materials; a voter services coordinator, who manages voter registration operations; and a computer services coordinator, who ensures that the agency's software is working and accurate.

The decision will leave the elections office with about $20,000 in its coffers through June to buy elections materials and to hire seasonal workers for next year's elections, Cronin said.

In contrast, the agency had $225,000 to spend on such expenses before the 2008 elections, he noted.

Officials are now scrounging the agency's warehouse for supplies, contemplating putting candidate materials on its Web site and using only one office to collect candidate nomination papers instead of the two that have been open in past years, Cronin said. The agency also is considering reducing the number of polling places it will open next year.

“;We have to redesign how to run the 2010 elections,”; Cronin said in an e-mail.

Gov. Linda Lingle has said she will not allocate more money to the elections office because the state cannot afford to.

But Cronin said administration officials have told him they will try to persuade the Legislature to free up some of the money now reserved for buying new voting machines. Lawmakers reconvene in January.

But he stressed that the longer the elections office goes without those four key supervisors, the more likely that next year's elections will go awry.

The statewide primary election is scheduled for Sept. 18, 2010, and the general election is Nov. 2.