Salvage the special election


POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie has every reason to resign his congressional seat so he can devote full attention to his candidacy for governor in the months leading up to the September primary election. His opponents for governor are naturally critical of such a move, but Abercrombie's departure from Washington is not likely to be decisive in legislation coming before the Democratic-dominated, 435-member House.

Abercrombie said he will wait for the House to vote on such issues as health care reform, military spending and Hawaiian sovereignty before leaving his seat for the past 18 years. Those should be resolved within the next two months, which would allow him to conduct a full-blown campaign.

“;It's now just a matter of finishing up the conferences and finishing up the work of the year,”; he said, “;and I expect that will be done very, very shortly.”; That may be a wishful expectation, especially considering the volatile status of health care legislation.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann has indicated he will run for Washington Place, which would result in a heated battle for the Democratic nomination for governor.

The winner probably would face Republican Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona, the underdog in either case, in November.

Conducting a special election at polling booths to fill Abercrombie's seat representing the 1st Congressional District before the September primary may not be economically feasible. The state Office of Elections is expected to end the fiscal year on June 30 with a $12,000 budget deficit. Kevin Cronin, the outgoing chief elections officer, said the last special election to fill the vacancy, stemming from the death of Patsy Mink in 2002, cost about $2 million.

Cronin said one way to deal with the problem is to conduct an election by ballots to be mailed in or dropped off at central locations to reduce costs. That system was used successfully in April to conduct a special election in Windward Oahu to replace the late Barbara Marshall on the City Council.

Even with Barack Obama on the ballot last year, the U.S. Census Bureau showed only 51.8 percent of eligible voters participated — lowest in the nation. In Oregon, the only state to vote by mail or at drop-off sites over a period of several weeks, 67.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, compared with 60 percent in elections prior to the voting by mail.

Finding enough dollars to conduct a special election by ballots mailed to registered voters would provide a valuable test of the system that could be broadened in future elections.