Thursday, January 6, 2000

Hawaii State Seal

Budget cut will
harm elections,
official warns

Having fewer workers may
affect accuracy, security,
efficiency and integrity

By Pat Omandam


Hawaii voters could see longer lines at polling places and a greater risk of ballot errors this fall if 553 precinct jobs are eliminated due to budget cuts, warns the chief elections officer.

Dwayne Yoshina said the security and integrity of this year's primary and general elections could also be called into question if there are job reductions. In addition, dissatisfaction among voters this year could turn them away in future elections, he said.

Yoshina told the Senate Ways and Means Committee yesterday that Gov. Ben Cayetano has imposed a budget cut of 4 percent, or $83,013, on the office of elections in the fiscal year that starts July 1. He said that cut would force him to eliminate 553 Election Day workers, most of whom are precinct officials.

Yoshina said he has no place else to cut in his $2.8 million supplemental 2000-2001 budget. He said the loss of workers is inevitable if the restriction is not lifted by the governor or if the Legislature doesn't provide enough money this session to cover the shortfall.

"I've taken all the cuts I can," Yoshina said. "And if I take my 'warm body' cuts, I can't take care of the elections."

Yoshina said cutting the number of precinct officials -- who directly assist voters -- would be compounded because the state will be using a new electronic voting system that will likely cause confusion and mistakes in the beginning, he said.

Yoshina said the number of precinct officials fell to 2,922 in 1998 from 3,578 in 1994. He said the office continually has problems recruiting election workers, as well as getting them to show up on election days. About 20 percent of precinct officials hired -- who are paid $75 per election day -- don't show up for work at the precincts, he said.

And if there are not enough people to legally operate a precinct, that polling place would have to be shut down, he said.

The elections office absorbed a $94,990 budget cut this 1999-2000 fiscal year, using money set aside for a new election system to cover the shortage.

The state procurement office is seeking bids for a new election system.

A new contract must be signed by early March to be ready for September's primary election.

Election Systems & Software supplied counting machines for the 1998 elections under a $1.675 million contract. It is one of the companies that has bid on the new contract.

Problems with seven balloting machines forced a recount of certain precincts in 1998, although no major problems were found and the outcomes of all contests stayed the same.

Yoshina faced stern questioning yesterday by Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), who said using a single ballot for all the primary elections is too confusing for voters who don't realize they can only pick candidates from one political party.

As an example, Kawamoto pointed to the 1998 primary election race between Democrat challenger Alex Sonson and incumbent Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City). Sonson lost to Takumi by only nine votes, but there were 189 spoiled ballots.

Kawamoto believes many people voted for Sonson but mistakenly voted for candidates running for races in other political parties that were listed on the ballot, thereby invalidating their votes.

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