Next election must not be compromised


POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

The resignation of Hawaii's chief of elections officer ends a tumultuous reign and begins a daunting scramble to name a replacement to set up adequate polling stations in less than a year. Next year's elections are the most important in recent years and require the highest of democratic standards.

Kevin Cronin resigned his job as attorney for a Wisconsin government agency to take the Hawaii elections post in February 2008. He had a rocky start, neglecting to register to vote here, as required by law, and engaging in several conflicts. His parting shot last week was to recommend closing more than one-third of the islands' polling places for the 2010 elections because of budget restraints; the primaries are scheduled in September.

In a 10-page explanation to the state Elections Commission, Cronin said he hoped as recently as July that the Lingle administration would agree to come to his office's assistance in hiring staff and buying supplies.

“;Our hopes were not realized,”; he stated, nor was federal help available.

Thus, he determined, the state will need to merge 97 of its 339 polling precincts.

Consolidation of some polls might be warranted due to budget and staff limitations—but only after careful review of precinct turnouts and input from election county clerks. That apparently has not happened.

The September primaries are crucial in a state dominated by the Democratic Party. In the race for governor, Mufi Hannemann has signaled plans to resign as Honolulu mayor to face U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie for the party's nomination. Abercrombie's resignation from Congress will produce a fierce battle among Democrats for that opening. Democratic nominees for those positions will be heavily favored to win in November.

Longtime Hawaii residents have been accustomed to voting in the same place every two years. Being forced to cast their ballots after standing in longer-than-usual lines at places that they might have trouble finding and parking at is likely to discourage many from exercising their most important right.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, blames Cronin for creating the problem by giving pay raises to his staffers with money that had been set aside for converting jobs to civil service positions. Those are dollars under the bridge, and the effort now should be focused on the coming elections.

In the long run—too late for next year's election—the state should seek a person who can focus on changing the election process to turn around Hawaii's abysmal voter turnout. The most promising is Oregon's economical system of mailing ballots to eligible voters, used successfully in April's special election to replace the late Barbara Marshall on the City Council.