Yesterday was the official test of the central counting machines, used to count absentee ballots, in the Senate chambers of the state Capitol. During the testing, independent observers Katherine Thomason, left, and Sharon Dumas compared the count of the central counting machines to previous counts of the precinct machines. A central counting machine is in the background.

Observers assure
integrity of vote

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will count the ballots Tuesday

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By Helen Altonn

Residents going to the polls Tuesday can be assured the integrity of their vote will be protected, according to independent observers.

Election 2002

"Things have improved measurably year after year," said Warren Iwasa, editor of the Hawaii Herald, who was among about 45 volunteers testing the absentee mail counters and data system yesterday in the Senate chamber at the Capitol.

Iwasa said he became an observer in 1998 because he believes in "the American principle of one person, one vote, and I wanted to see the degree to which it is practiced in Hawaii."

"I am convinced ... it is adhered to," he said.

Voters also need to do their part, election officials say.

Those who didn't vote in the primary election and don't know if their polling place changed because of reapportionment should call the Office of Elections at 453-VOTE (8683) or check the Web site

Voters who think something is wrong at their polling place should talk to the precinct chairperson to have the problem remedied or get a new ballot.

"Calling us when you go home won't help," said Dwayne Yoshina, chief election officer.

A "voter bill of rights" is posted at polling places, he said, and voters should read it.

Observers yesterday marked sample ballots and ran them through high-speed counters to confirm their accuracy. They also tested central counters on sample mail-in and walk-in absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots are expected to set a state record this year, exceeding the 73,070 in the 2000 general election, said Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla.

Absentee walk-in ballots are counted as people vote, with results "in the bank" on a computer chip until polls close at 6 p.m. Mail-in ballots aren't opened until the polls close, but the voter's signature on the envelope is checked with the signature on file.

"What we found is people forget to sign the affirmation statement," said Glen Takahashi, election administrator for Honolulu. He estimates about 100 ballots per 10,000 must be invalidated because of no signature.

"We don't know who voted," he said.

The network that transmits voting results from the counties to Honolulu also was tested yesterday in the fourth blind tests conducted of the system, Yoshina said.

He said audits will be conducted throughout election night by a group that randomly selects district precincts and manually counts votes to check them against computer results.

"There's a mistaken notion that we don't have recounts, but we have built-in recounts," Yoshina said.

Todd Mullen, executive with Election Systems & Software, the company that provides the voting machines, said, "Other places don't go through near the testing that you (in Hawaii) do," particularly with volunteers "taking the initiative to become involved."

Observer and attorney Art Ross said: "Basically, it's honest. A lot of people may not think so for personal reasons."

He added, "We want an honest election, win or lose."

Quidilla said the system includes safeguards, but it is "built on honesty." He pointed out that anyone who commits voter fraud faces severe state and federal penalties.

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