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David Shapiro

By David Shapiro

Saturday, February 6, 1999

Conduct spot check
of election results

IN 1972, former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi demanded a recount in an election against Andy Anderson that Fasi had won -- just not by as much as he thought he should have.

Everybody laughed it off as Fasi being Fasi until TV reporter Byron Baker was overcome by election-night battle fatigue and broadcast his own suspicions about the vote count.

A perturbed Lt. Gov. George Ariyoshi, who was in charge of the election, took revenge on Baker by demanding that the entire political press corps count a randomly chosen precinct by hand to prove that the computer tally was on the up and up.

We all reluctantly showed up at the appointed time except Baker, who walked in late and announced, "Well, I'm satisfied." Then he walked right back out, leaving the rest of us to spend a morning fumbling through ballot boxes and displaying the lousy math skills that drove us into journalism in the first place. The original computer vote count was on the mark.

The Ariyoshi solution would be a good way to start untangling suspicions about the vote count in last year's election.

Relatively minor irregularities have been found in seven precincts, the result of ballots misread by the new election machines provided by Election Systems & Software. The company insists that no other serious mistakes were made and has offered to pay for a full recount to prove the election was honest.

It has thrown the state into political and constitutional confusion as lawmakers, losing candidates, election officials and lawyers try to figure out how to validate an election that has already been certified as final.

The issue has grown beyond computer glitches into unsubstantiated suggestions by the Linda Lingle camp of fraud to rig the vote for Gov. Ben Cayetano.

State senators led by Senate President Norman Mizuguchi are absolutely right to demand an unequivocal resolution of any doubts. But their proposal for a recount by hand of every ballot in every race is premature. Having an independent group -- not journalists, please -- count a few randomly selected districts by hand would be a more sensible next step.

If the hand count validates the computer count in those districts, we can be confident that there were no widespread errors that would change the outcome of the election. If the hand count of selected districts reveals serious problems, we can proceed to a full recount of all ballots.

A progressive recount in this manner would answer the questions raised by Lingle and other losing candidates. If they're right, we'll have to find a way to correct an invalid election. If they're wrong and raised groundless suspicions that the election was dishonest, voters will make them pay for their irresponsibility the next time they run.

ONE thing Lingle is definitely right about is that the election showed "patterns of incompetence" in the Office of Elections.

Will somebody please explain again the awful planning that led us to replace the reliable old punch card balloting system with a confusing new procedure -- virtually at the last minute and without competitive bidding?

Will somebody tell us again why it was a good idea to take elections away from the lieutenant governor, who is accountable to voters, and turn this vital function over to a bureaucrat who acts like he's accountable to nobody?

Chief elections officer Dwayne Yoshina's contract is up for renewal. This mess is on him and if he doesn't fix it fast, the board that appoints him needs to hold him to account.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at editor@starbulletin.com.

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