Isles get $5M
for voting upgrades

The federal grant will pay
for new equipment and fund
more voter education, officials say

State election officials are hoping that a one-time, $5 million federal grant will erase Hawaii's reputation as the state with the nation's worst voter turnout.

In the last two elections, just slightly more than 40 percent of Hawaii's eligible voters have actually cast a ballot.

The federal Help America Vote Act gives states money to improve voting capabilities and organize state voting policies.

Hawaii's money will go to buy at least one new electronic voting machine for each of the 356 precincts and modems to electronically report the vote totals to the state vote-counting center.

Rex Quidilla, voter service coordinator with the state Office of Elections, said the money will also go to increased voter education.

In the last election, Hawaii spent only $25,000 on voter education, Quidilla said. The office hasn't yet figured out how much money will go this year to education.

"We will be looking at voter materials in different languages, newspaper and radio ads, mailers to all registered voters and an outreach program to immigrant groups," Quidilla added.

The Office of Elections will stress teaching Hawaii citizens how to vote; the reason for voting, however, will have to come from the "politicians and political parties igniting the imagination of voters this fall," Quidilla said.

The new electronic voting machines will be capable of electronically recording votes through either a touch screen or pushing a button, he said.

The machines will also be set to help handicapped voters.

One question still to be answered, Quidilla acknowledged, is how well the new machines will mesh with the existing system of optical scanner machines that Hawaii already uses to record votes.

Those machines will also be used in the fall elections, he said.

Many of the problems that have been highlighted in the federal law have already been addressed in Hawaii.

For instance, Quidilla said, the new law requires that all punch-card ballots be replaced, which Hawaii did in 1998.

"Also, a lot of states are having trouble moving to a statewide voting standard and a statewide database, which is something that we have already adopted," Quidilla said.

The only problem with the federal $5 million grant, he said, is that it is a one-time payment.

"The operation and maintenance of those machines can be costly, so we will want to use the money wisely," Quidilla said.


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