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Elections chief draws ire of Senate's finance chair


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POSTED: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Although she expressed serious concerns and a lack of confidence in the state Office of Elections' ability to carry out next year's elections, the head of the Senate's money committee stopped short of saying the agency's chief should be fired.

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim left that decision to the state Elections Commission.

“;I think his commission needs to review this, and his commission needs to review his actions all around,”; Kim said of Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin. “;I think that he has not performed his duties the way it should be.”;

The Elections Office faced harsh questioning by Kim's Ways and Means Committee yesterday on its ability to carry out the 2010 elections, which include key races for governor and Congress.

Cronin says budget cuts by Gov. Linda Lingle and other restrictions have left insufficient funds to successfully conduct the vote.

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His office was seeking an easing of some budget restrictions to free up money, but Kim said that was unlikely because the office has been unresponsive in supplying the Legislature with details on how the money will be spent.

Kim said provisos were placed on some funds specifically because the Elections Office was not more forthcoming while lawmakers crafted the budget last session.

“;I have some serious concerns on your knowledge, on your preparation and gathering of information,”; Kim told Cronin. “;This is not just today, but in this past budget cycle. It's like pulling teeth to get information.”;

Kim questioned some of Cronin's spending, including decisions to provide raises to employees with funds set aside for converting jobs to civil service positions and purchasing expensive electronic voting equipment that has been successfully challenged in court on Maui.

Cronin was contrite and agreed with much of the committee's assessment, many times simply conceding points and thanking lawmakers for their comments.

“;We do the very best that we can,”; he said. “;If it doesn't meet everybody's expectations, which we try to do, we can understand that, but we do not stop trying to do our very best.”;

He said he was not very hands-on during the budget process, relying on the Department of Accounting and General Services, which oversees his office, to handle the budget requests.

“;We were very frustrated with him and his responses during the budget session, and now it's like, 'Woe is me' and 'I don't have all this money,'”; said Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa). “;He is the one that is responsible for the position he's in.”;