SINCE 1996, the matter of ceded-land payments to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has remained in limbo. With the state and OHA agreeing to resume settlement discussions, both sides should seek final resolution. A determination on how much money is owed OHA will place an enormous financial burden on the state, but prolonging settlement only delays the inevitable and increases uncertainty about the state's fiscal stability.
No end in sight for
The issue: For more than five years,
an agreement on how much revenue is
due the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has
eluded the state and the agency.
The dispute stems from a ruling by state Circuit Judge Daniel G. Heely five years ago that OHA could sue the state for revenues generated from 1.8 million acres of land ceded to the United States after the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and turned over to the state upon statehood in 1959. In 1978, voters approved constitutional amendments to create OHA and fund it with a share of money derived from use of ceded lands. In 1980, the state Legislature set the share at 20 percent.
Since then, legal battles have ensued over what the percentage covers. The Hawaii Supreme Court has delayed ruling on the issue in hopes that the state and OHA could come to some agreement. Only this month have the two sides agreed to resume negotiations.
A quick settlement, however, isn't expected. "We'll be lucky if we can get a settlement in two years," said OHA trustee Donald Cataluna. The reason is the huge amount of money involved. Estimates of what the state owes range up to $1.2 billion. When talks ended, the two sides were about $53.3 million apart with OHA's final offer at $304.6 million and the state's at $251.3 million.
The state should no longer attempt to dodge its legal responsibilities to OHA. If it cannot bear the financial burden, it should be bold enough to seek some kind of legislative relief because the problem won't disappear and the financial costs will only increase. At the same time, OHA should also acknowledge that if the welfare of Hawaii's citizenry is jeopardized by its demands, the price could be a severe division in the community.
HANGING chads and butterfly ballots in Florida came under scrutiny in last year's presidential elections, revealing the potential for error in a close contest. The controversy has triggered a report by House Democrats concluding that Florida's problems were not unique. It calls for congressional mandates to assure a national standard for conducting elections, but that would be an unnecessarily extreme measure usurping states' traditional role as guardians of the ballot box.
Keep elections free
from federal mandates
The issue: Democrats on the House
Judiciary Committee have called for
federal elections standards to
be imposed on states.
Hawaii has achieved relative success in its operation of elections in recent years and is seeking to correct deficiencies. That effort should be allowed to proceed without federal interference.
In last year's election dispute between George W. Bush and Al Gore, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida must avoid arbitrary and disparate treatment of voters. The decision pertained to Florida but raised questions about the obligations of other states under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The report, prepared by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, found that as many as 2 percent of the ballots cast in the presidential race nationwide were discarded because of machine errors and voter errors. In at least four states, it found, the number of unrecorded ballots was greater than the margin of victory and could have resulted in a switch of electoral votes.
The report credits Hawaii's use of the Marksense optical scanning system for the state's low level of unrecorded ballots, which numbered 3,162, only 0.8 percent of those cast. After a rocky start three years ago, the scanner system operated smoothly in last year's election.
Hawaii was among 38 states in which recount standards and procedures would likely fail constitutional scrutiny, according to the report. Hawaii lacks a recount statute or procedure for counting contested ballots that would be consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Bush vs. Gore, it added.
However, the report notes, Governor Cayetano in May signed a bill that calls for a nine-member panel headed by Dwayne D. Yoshina, the state's chief elections officer, to prepare a study for next year's Legislature on "the feasibility of implementing an automatic recount and improved contest procedure." Legislators should correct any deficiency that otherwise would help provide an excuse for congressional action.
The Florida circus signaled the need for reviewing and improving election procedures but it should not be used as a reason for federal mandates. The Constitution provides that states provide their own means of conducting elections. Although it allows Congress to "make or alter" such regulations, it has prudently refrained for doing so and should continue that practice.
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