Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Election reform
ideas ignore Hawaii

The issue: A national commission
recommends a comprehensive overhaul
of America's election system.

The reforms proposed by a national election commission could greatly improve the nation's voting system, but two recommendations are disturbing. One would impose First Amendment restrictions on news organizations and another would detract from honoring America's veterans by making the Veterans Day holiday double as Election Day.

The commission was formed after last year's presidential election in which results were delayed for 36 days by chaotic counts in Florida. The dispute involved legal wrangling, challenges over hanging chads and accusations of misdeeds, ending with the U.S. Supreme Court certifying the vote in Florida that, in turn, awarded George W. Bush the presidency.

The commission's proposals properly aim at preventing another fiasco. The panel recommended provisional ballots, allowing people who don't show on election rolls to cast a ballot, with election officials verifying validity later. The commission recommended simplifying absentee voting, setting uniform benchmarks for voting machine errors and standards for voting equipment, defining what will constitute a vote on all types of ballots and providing funds for better election administration.

Proposals for statewide voter registration and allowing felons to vote after completion of prison terms would have little effect in Hawaii because both provisions are part of state election laws.

The commission proposed that news organizations voluntarily refrain from projecting winners in presidential contests until polls have closed in all states except Alaska and Hawaii. If they do not comply, the panel recommends that Congress pass laws to bar the media from reporting any results until 11 p.m. eastern time.

Any law restricting First Amendment rights would not likely stand up in the courts. News organizations that conduct themselves in an irresponsible manner should rightly be criticized, but clamping on a muzzle would be unconstitutional. Further, the proposal would consign Hawaii and Alaska to second-class status. If the purpose is to protect voters in the 48 contiguous states, the citizens of the 49th and 50th states deserve no less.

The commission, perhaps recognizing the constitutional problems its plan would present, proposed a more workable blueprint that would set a uniform polling period that spans the nation's time zones. But again, the proposal improperly excludes Alaska and Hawaii.

The recommendation to change the date of Veterans Day to coincide with Election Day, saying a holiday would increase voter turnout, would be an affront to veterans. As Rep. Chris Smith, chairman the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said, "Election Day is Election Day. Veterans Day is Veterans Day."

Business climate gets
only slightly warmer

The issue: Hawaii has inched its way
out of the cellar in a rating of states'
government-related effects on small business.

HAWAII's climate for small business has been ranked among states as dead last since a conservative advocacy group called the Small Business Survival Committee began keeping score in 1996. While it may not be cause for celebration, Hawaii this year crawled away from that dubious distinction, which now falls to Rhode Island, and the future may be even brighter -- or not quite so bleak.

The committee ranks states according to government-related standards with which some people may disagree. It gauges various taxes as they affect the wealthy -- the top corporate, capital gains and personal income taxes, for example -- in addition to penalizing states with union shops and employer health-insurance requirements. However, much of the rating system is fair, such as energy and utility costs, both of which are high in Hawaii.

Last year, the scores ranged from 24.8 percent in South Dakota, the small business person's heaven, to Hawaii's hellish 63.5, a full 10.5 points behind Rhode Island. This year's ratings, topped by Nevada, show Hawaii's improvement to 57.2, a full 2 points ahead of Rhode Island and within striking distance of Maine, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, California, New York and relative respectability. (The yearly listings actually show the District of Columbia to be less hospitable than any state to small business.)

What happened? Small reductions in Hawaii's personal income, capital gains and general excise taxes helped. The general excise tax, Hawaii's version of the sales tax, has been blamed for high retail costs, and last year's Legislature took corrective action. Although the pyramiding of the tax -- assessing the tax at each level of resale -- remains, the rate is being reduced by 0.5 percent a year from last year's 4 percent to a final rate of 0.5 percent to be reached in 2006.

State Sen. Sam Slom, president of Small Business Hawaii, says steep workers' compensation costs and taxes, heavy government regulation and other costly requirements still plague his 2,500 members. Slom says Hawaii and Rhode Island share levels of organized labor, population, economy and government requirements.

Those conditions may seem difficult but they are not insurmountable. Small businesses that strive for efficiency in providing goods and services at a reasonable price succeed in Hawaii, as members of Slom's organization can attest.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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