State auditor may
observe vote recount
A Senate panel could act
tomorrow to seek a new general
By Craig Gima
The state Senate Judiciary Committee is expected tomorrow to pass a resolution asking for a full recount of the 1998 general election using high-speed counting machines, rather than tally by hand.
Senators are looking at having state auditor Marion Higa, the Federal Election Commission and an industry group called the Election Center as independent observers of the process.
The resolution will leave the details of how the audit will be conducted to the observers and chief election officer Dwayne Yoshina.
At this point, the Senate is only looking at recounting the general election and not the primary, said Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei).
"I don't want to dictate the process too far," Chumbley said.
The vote on the resolution, initially set for today, was postponed be-cause Judiciary Co-chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) was out sick.
Higa said her office is willing to help with an election recount if the Legislature requests it. She said her staff would have to research the best way to conduct an audit of the election.
"It's not so simple as to send a bunch of staff out there and do paper and pencil tallies," she said.
After reviewing the results of a random manual audit done on election night and a 7-1/2-hour hearing that ended yesterday morning, Chumbley believes there is no evidence of efforts to deceive voters.
"It's not about election fraud, it's about equipment failure," he said.
Gov. Ben Cayetano yesterday released a letter from Attorney General Margery Bronster that said even if a recount showed a change in election results, the current office holders are legally elected and a recount can't change that.
"Any attempt to change the law to have a new election, or to install a candidate who had previously lost, would be in essence a retroactive law and would be struck down by our courts," Bronster wrote.
The attorney general's office expressed doubt that federal courts or the Department of Justice would intervene in the election unless there is outright fraud or racial discrimination.
"Barring the facts as we know them significantly changing, we are confident that the election results will stand against any legal challenge," Bronster wrote.
Election Systems & Software, which provided the election machines and support, has promised to pay for the cost of a recount.
Chumbley said about $1 million of the $1.675 million election contract has not been paid to ES&S. The remainder of the payment is subject to negotiation between ES&S, the attorney general's office and the Office of Elections.
"Clearly ES&S should not get the full remaining balance because they have not fulfilled their contract," Chumbley said.
Machines in seven of 343 precincts statewide malfunctioned on election day. The machines that will be used in the recount are different from the ones that malfunctioned. ES&S Vice President Tom Eschberger estimated that fewer than 300 votes were miscounted in those precincts.
Despite this bad experience with the new election machines, Chumbley said, they are the future.
"Let's not step back," he said. "Let's continue to move forward with the current technology."