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StarBulletin.com

Stretched state might lack means for election


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POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

The state Office of Elections might not have the money or manpower to carry out a special election to fill the seat of U.S. Rep Neil Abercrombie once the seat becomes vacant, the outgoing agency chief says.

“;That is a possibility,”; said Kevin Cronin, chief election officer. “;It would be a matter of discussing among all the election officials the question of the capacity of the Office of Elections to administer an election when we're already experiencing significantly reduced staffing, virtually no funding to get us to June 30, 2010, and no voting machines.”;

Abercrombie plans to announce tomorrow when he will step down to concentrate full time on his run for governor in 2010.

Once the vacancy is created, it is up to the state's chief election officer to set the time, date and places for the special election.

But whether a special ballot can be held with the limited resources is a major question.

The last congressional special election—in 2002 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Patsy Mink—cost about $2 million, Cronin said.

No decision has been made yet on whether a special election would—or could—be held.

“;I can't even speculate,”; Cronin said.

The decision might not even fall to Cronin, who announced last week his resignation from the post, effective Dec. 31.

He has not publicly stated his reasons for quitting, and declined to discuss the matter again at a news conference yesterday.

The office is currently operating at a deficit and is expected to end the fiscal year on June 30 in a $12,000 hole. A typical election requires about $8 million, Cronin said.

“;Given our current economic circumstances, the Office of Elections would work very hard to make sure that we get the most use of any funds that are made available to the office,”; he said.

Any money from the state is unlikely, as the Legislature enters 2010 facing a budget shortfall of $1 billion.

Gov. Linda Lingle's office had no comment on the matter yesterday.

Cronin added that an all-mail election could be held to try reducing costs, or the vacancy could go unfilled until the September primary.

Depending on when Abercrombie leaves, such a delay could leave Hawaii with no representative in the 1st Congressional District.

House Speaker Calvin Say said funding for a special election should be a high priority.

“;If an election needs to be done, we'll bring it to the caucus to consider it, because I would not want to lose any representation in Congress at this time,”; Say said.

The U.S. Constitution requires that vacancies in the House of Representatives be filled by an election, and the governor cannot appoint a replacement.