Paper trails would
ensure vote integrity


A bill to require paper ballots for electronic voting machines has been cleared by a House committee.

A STATE House committee has given preliminary approval of a bill that will go a long way toward assuring voters their ballots are properly recorded. A Senate version of this much-needed safeguard was scheduled for a hearing today.

The House bill would require print-outs to verify votes cast by electronic machines. The paper ballots also would allow voters to correct errors they may have made and provide officials with a trail to audit votes should that become necessary.

The measure was prompted by the introduction of electronic voting in last year's elections. E-vote machines were to be used chiefly by disabled individuals to comply with federal law directing states to make voting more easily accessible. However, the machines were made available to other voters as well.

Though state election officials and the company that sells the machines say paper verification isn't needed, computer experts have shown that electronic voting systems are vulnerable to error or abuse. Nevada requires paper records to back up e-votes, California will do so starting 2006 and four other states have passed similar legislation, according to Safe Vote Hawaii, an advocacy group.

The bill calls for paper ballots that voters can check before they are recorded. If mistakes have been made, they can be corrected. Ballots then will be retained should there be a need for recounts or if other problems arise.

As with any new undertaking, lawmakers must consider costs, and estimates for printers vary widely, from $100 to $1,000. At present, the state has about 400 e-voting machines and whether more will be acquired is up in the air since there are questions about the state's contract with the machines' provider. Legislators should get a clearer idea of costs, but that alone should not set aside the integrity of the election system.


Rail system gains
deserved support


Two legislative committees have supported a proposal to allow the city to raise taxes to pay for a rapid rail system.

CONSENSUS among city, state and federal lawmakers is moving the prospect of a rapid rail transit system on Oahu closer to fruition. Bills that would allow the city to temporarily raise the excise tax by up to 1 percent have gained approval in state House and Senate committees. They should be enacted and signed into law by Governor Lingle.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie told state legislators it is imperative that they act quickly on the measures to send "a strong signal to Washington that there is a will and a way to fund the local share" of the cost. He said federal transit officials have acknowledged that Honolulu's traffic congestion is "unparalleled in the United States."

The bills before the Legislature would allow each county to raise excise taxes to pay for a public transportation system. While other counties may take advantage, the bills are aimed mainly at a rail system for Honolulu.

The project is given a price tag of $2.6 billion, the estimated cost of a light-rail system proposed two years ago by Lingle stretching from Kapolei to Iwilei. The city has invested much in planning over the past two decades and missed an opportunity to go forward in 1992, when the City Council voted 5-4 against a tax increase to finance its construction.

Fortunately, the current Council is poised to support the proposal, which is supported by Mayor Hannemann, although opponents of a rail system are expressing alarm about an increase in the excise tax from 4 percent to as much as 5 percent. If exploited in its entirety, the tax increase could generate more than enough revenue during its 10-year life to pay for the entire rail system.

However, federal funding could account for as much as 80 percent of the total cost. If the feds agree to pick up only half the tab, the city's excise tax increase could be limited to only one-half of 1 percent, the percentage proposed to the City Council in 1992.

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