Mizuguchi:Lets clear the air
A resolution is expected
in the state Senate today for
an election recount
By Craig Gima
The Senate today was expected to introduce a resolution calling for a recount by hand of all ballots cast in the 1998 general election to "clear the air" about the integrity of the election, says Senate President Norman Mizuguchi.
But questions are being raised about the need for a full recount, what will happen to the results, how much the process will cost and whether the Senate or the chief election officer has the authority to recount the ballots.
"We are starting in uncharted waters," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo).
Walter Heen, state Democratic Party chairman and former appellate court judge, questioned the legality of ordering a recount because he said state law only gives that power to the Supreme Court.
"A recount is not a political process; it is a legal process," he said.
But chief election officer Dwayne Yoshina said in the last week he has already recounted six precincts where problems were discovered.
"The attorney general said I can go in and look at the ballots, which is what I am doing," he said. "I'm reviewing the ballots."
Yoshina said because of Heen's concerns, he will go back to the attorney general and ask about the legality of a full recount.
He added that the recount did not show a change in the results of any election.
Senators said a recount is legal because state law allows any citizen to look at the ballots, with proper safeguards in place, after the election has been certified.
"This is not an official recount to affect the outcome of the election," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae). "The election results are not going to be overturned."
But in the House, Say questioned what will happen if the recount shows that the wrong person was elected. "We don't know what the legal ramifications are," Say said. "There are no statutes on the books."
He also questioned whether there should be a full recount or just in selected races.
He said those questions would have to be answered during public hearings on the resolution.
The first public hearing in the Senate is scheduled for Monday night before the Judiciary Committee. If it passes the Senate as expected, the House would hold its own hearings, and the resolution could pass both chambers in two weeks.
The Senate resolution asks the company that provided the election computer system, Election Systems & Software, to pay for the recount and for observers to be present.
The company must also provide a report to the Legislature that includes an explanation of what happened.
Depending on what is found, Mizuguchi said he may call for a special committee to investigate the election.
ES&S told Yoshina yesterday the malfunction in seven precinct ballot counters appears to have been caused by a foreign substance, possibly ink from a pen, that smudged the optical readers.
ES&S Vice President Tom Eschberger estimated that a hand count would cost between $100,000 and $150,000.
He said the company is willing to pay for it; however, he suggested that counting the ballots with a high-speed counter would be faster, cheaper and more accurate.
He said the high-speed counter that was used to count absentee ballots has been proved in several elections over several years and uses a different technology than the precinct ballot counters to read the ballots.
Besides the resolution calling for a recount, there are several bills that would change the way the elections office is run.
Mizuguchi said he believes there should be a panel to oversee the chief election officer.
"Anytime you set a new system in place, it's very difficult without checks and balances, and he (Yoshina) was alone in this thing. So I'm not saying that a governance over the election would improve the situation, but I think that he (Yoshina) would have to answer to someone," Mizuguchi said.
Besides the bill to create a governing board over the elections, there are proposals to make it easier to obtain a recount.
Those bills are scheduled to be heard on Feb. 17 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The vote-counting problem surfaced when Democratic incumbent Merwyn Jones of Waianae challenged the results, which had him losing by 21 votes.
Jones and the Democratic Party suggested there was an unusually high number of over-votes or votes cast for more than one candidate in one precinct in his district.
The recount showed Emily Auwae won by more than 40 votes and also revealed the problem.
The controversy has many lawmakers wishing for the return of the old punch-card voting system. Say noted, however, that if the state went back to the system, the Legislature would have to give the office of elections more money to run the next election.