Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, February 12, 1999

Counting on the
right thing

MY first worries about the new super-sophisticated, technically advanced, cutting edge vote-counting system occurred during last year's primary election when I exited the voting booth and almost ripped my ballot in half trying to detach the receipt thingy.

The official elections dude at the vote counting machine took the ballot from me, pulled it OUT of the secret protective envelope and tore the receipt tag, leaving a kind of ragged edge along the bottom of the ballot. He assured me the tear wouldn't affect the vote-counting process. Then he put the ballot back into the envelope, handed it back to me so I could feed the sheet of paper into the machine, which bore an unsettling resemblance to a paper-shredder.

What bothered me was not that the receipt had not torn off nicely along the perforated edge. I'm not the most coordinated guy in the world, but I figured that if I had a hard time bifurcating the ballot, then citizens with less dexterity than I would have a hard time. What bothered me was that the official elections dude had unclad my ballot from its protective skirt, waving it in its nakedness for all to see. Not that anyone wanted to see. But if they had, they could have seen who I had voted for, which sort of defeats the purpose of those little curtained voting closets.

I stood back and watched some of the next voters approach the machine. Sure enough, others had problems, which can be expected with a new system. But it seemed odd that some people's ballots were being exposed to the public without a care in the world. The mechanical aspects of dealing with the new machines had become more important than the vote itself.

As I stood watching, a couple of the ballots being fed into the machine were rejected and the person had to re-insert them. In some cases, the official election dude fed in the ballot himself. It wasn't until later that day, when reports started coming in about machines getting screwed up, that I realized the new system may have been as unreliable as it appeared from my mini-audit.

THE most disturbing thing at the time to me was the fact that some machines apparently went down altogether and the official election dudes saved up everyone's ballots to feed them in later. I wondered what happened to those ballots that had been marked wrongly and thus would not feed into the machine. The voters were long gone before the official election dudes fed their ballots into the machine so they didn't get a second chance to cast their votes.

It now turns out that my concerns were manini compared to all of the irregularities that happened throughout the primary and general elections. Machines crashed, ballots were mismarked and had to be re-marked. It turns out that these types of machines had problems in other elections.

Considering the paper-thin margin of victory in the governor's race, the fiasco has left people feeling unsettled. Voting machine company honchos and election officials, including Chief Election Dude Dwayne Yoshina, have been a little too quick to put their seal of approval on the process. Yoshina seems to be more interested in protecting his job and his 11th hour decision to hire a new vote-counting company than determining if the election count was accurate.

Apparently some kind of a recount will be held, which is surprising. Just when we think a one-party political system has hopelessly corrupted the state, our state legislators come out and do something honorable.

Wow. Feelings naturally are being hurt. A recount implies a lack of trust. But there's an old saying designed to keep the peace among antagonists: Trust everyone -- but cut the cards. Today it would be: Trust everyone -- but recount the ballots.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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