State's election chief to resign


POSTED: Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Kevin Cronin, state chief election officer, is resigning at the end of the month amid concerns over budget cuts and complaints about Cronin's communication and leadership skills.

In an e-mail to county election officials yesterday afternoon, Cronin did not give his reasons for resigning. But he said his resignation on Dec. 31 will “;enable the Elections Commission to name my successor with minimal impact on the election preparations.”;

Commission Chairman William Marston said commissioners will likely meet in a closed-door session today to discuss how to replace Cronin.

“;Kevin is an honest man. He has a great deal of integrity. I wish him well,”; Marston said.

The commission was scheduled today to evaluate Cronin's job performance. It also is scheduled to discuss a proposal to close 97 polling places for the next elections because of a lack of money to hire necessary staff and train poll volunteers.

In September, Cronin warned legislators that budget cuts have left the agency with insufficient funds to “;successfully execute”; next year's elections.

Marston said the budget problems will continue whether Cronin is here to manage them. “;There's always been concerns because of the lack of budget,”; he said. “;Something's got to suffer along the way.”;

Cronin is also leaving as the purchase of voting machines for next year's elections is undecided after a successful challenge to the awarding of the election contract.

Last month, the commission met in executive session to discuss public complaints by the four county clerks about Cronin's lack of communication and collaboration.

At a hearing in September, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Donna Kim questioned Cronin's ability to carry out his duties.

Cronin also came under criticism last year for not registering to vote in Hawaii, as required by state law.

Cronin was hired in February 2007 from Wisconsin, where he was assistant general counsel to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. He had little previous experience with elections.

Cronin makes about $94,000 a year as state election officer, Marston said.

In an e-mail, Brian Schatz, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, called Cronin's resignation “;an unfortunate but probably necessary step on the road to making the office run well.”;

Schatz said: “;This office has been troubled with leadership challenges, a lack of sufficient resources, and a rocky relationship with both the Legislature and the executive branch, so it was time to move on. ...

“;There is a lot that goes into running an election and a lot that can go wrong. So whether it's resource or leadership issues, elections must be placed back on track quickly.”;

Cronin's proposal to close polling places next year would consolidate 30 percent of the state's 339 precincts. Of the 97 places proposed to be shuttered, 76 are on Oahu; 18 are on the Big Island; and three are on Maui. No Kauai precincts would be affected.

In an earlier draft report released in June, the agency proposed closing 66 precincts, all of them on Oahu.

“;In short, the 14 current elections office staff cannot do the same election preparation work for the 2010 elections that 33 elections office staff previously performed for the 2008 elections, no matter what others may believe or critics may say,”; Cronin wrote.

Jean Aoki, the legislative liasion for the League of Women Voters, said it is “;unacceptable”; to close that many precincts. She urged lawmakers and the governor to find funding to run the elections properly.

“;He (Cronin) doesn't have money, so it's not his fault,”; Aoki said. “;I hope we have someone that can step up and really do a good job.”;

In his e-mail, Cronin said he was “;very proud”; of last year's elections, which he said was “;recognized by many knowledgeable election observers as thesmoothest elections in at least 10 years.”;

Cronin concluded by saying he has enjoyed “;our challeging work together and extend my best wishes for successful elections in 2010.”;

The Associated Press contributed to this report.