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Resignation intensifies worries about elections


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POSTED: Thursday, December 03, 2009

The resignation of Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin is renewing concerns about whether there is enough money, manpower and time to plan successful elections next year.

In a letter Tuesday to Cronin signed by all four county clerks in charge of elections, the clerks said they believe “;planning for the 2010 elections continues to be significantly behind schedule without assurance that an election similar to the 2008 elections can be achieved given the financial restrictions.”;

The clerks complained that they were informed only on Friday afternoon about Cronin's plan to close and consolidate 97 of the state's 339 polling places next year and said Cronin is not consulting with them in making critical decisions about the election.

The primary election is set for Sept. 19 and at stake are contests for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. House and possibly Honolulu mayor.

Cronin told the state Elections Commission yesterday that his plan to consolidate 76 Oahu, 18 Big Island and three Maui precincts relates not to savings but to a lack of manpower to train volunteers. There might be additional costs to inform voters about the change, he said.

Cronin said because of budget cuts, there are now only 14 workers in the Office of Elections, compared with 33 staff and seasonal workers hired last year to run the election. That's not enough, he said, to recruit and train the more than 2,600 precinct volunteers needed to staff the polling places.

Cronin said he has asked the governor's office for the authority to use federal Help America Vote Act funds to hire additional workers.

Chuck Freedman, speaking for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said the governor's office needs to step up and make sure that the elections are conducted properly.

“;This is a state election we're talking about,”; Freedman said. “;Nobody wants to look like Florida.”;

But Election Commissioner Harold Nelson said the Democratic-majority Legislature has the same responsibility to properly fund the elections.

Jean Aoki, the legislative liaison for the League of Women Voters, told the commission her organization opposes closing polling places and would like to see more funding for elections.

Aoki said problems with the elections and funding have been known for months and “;the response by the public has really been a big yawn.”;

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said she is also concerned about the upcoming elections and the Legislature will look at additional funding when it meets in January.

But she said there are other factors beyond the control of the Legislature and the governor.

One concern is whether the federal government will require Hawaii to move the primary election to an earlier date to allow ballots to be mailed and returned by U.S. military personnel deployed overseas. That would give the elections office even less time to plan.

Another major concern is that the state hasn't selected a vendor to provide voting equipment. Because of successful court challenges, the selection is on hold until there are administrative rules in place for electronic voting.

Cronin said a public hearing on the voting rules is scheduled for next Thursday. If everything moves quickly, the elections office could select a voting machine supplier this spring or as late as this summer.

;[Preview]    Hawaii voters frustrated by Cronin's final decision
  ;[Preview]
 

Voter advocates were outraged by Cronin's last major decision to close nearly one-third of the state's voting sites.

Watch ]

 

Outside the meeting, Cronin would not explain the reason for his departure at the end of this month. In a written statement, he said he would “;pursue other opportunities.”;

Chairman William Marston said the commission will likely name Rex Quidilla, who has previously served as interim election chief, or Scott Nago, a state elections office section head, as the interim chief election officer. Both were finalists for the job during the last search in 2007 to replace longtime administrator Dwayne Yoshina. That search lasted about 10 months.

Marston said the commission will try to fill the job before the 2010 elections.

Gov. Linda Lingle, in a radio interview yesterday, said she was surprised but not shocked at Cronin's resignation, noting his inability to deal with the budget crisis and strained relationship with the Legislature.

“;It has been one thing after another with him,”; the governor said.

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On the Net:
» For a list of precincts to be closed, go to hawaii.gov/elections or click here. For the full text, click here.