Funds found for special election


POSTED: Friday, January 15, 2010

Hawaii may be able to afford its special election to fill an open congressional seat after all.

Gov. Linda Lingle plans to ask state lawmakers to spend $1.3 million recently found in an accounting error to pay for an election as soon as May 1, state Comptroller Russ Saito said.

“;This is the logical place to get the money,”; said Saito, who was sending the documents for an emergency appropriation to Lingle yesterday. “;It's perfectly OK to spend it for that purpose.”;

Without the money, the state lacks the $925,000 to hold a vote-by-mail election to fill the U.S. House seat held by Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is stepping down Feb. 28 to pursue a run for governor. The Hawaii Office of Elections said last week it had only $5,000 left to last until July.

By law the special election must take place at least 60 days after Abercrombie resigns, which means it will occur on or after May 1.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Case, Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and Republican Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou will run in the winner-take-all election.

If the money is appropriated quickly and the state buys or leases new voting machines, ballots could be mailed out a few weeks before they are counted May 1. The Office of Elections suspended the selection of a company to supply voting machines for this year's elections because of a Maui Circuit Court ruling that the state needs to hold hearings to come up with rules for electronic voting before machines can be used. Money for the machines for the regular election has already been allocated.

The winner of this election will become the favorite to win a full term in this fall's regularly scheduled elections.

“;The goal is to give ample opportunity for voters to receive and return their ballots prior to Election Day,”; said Rex Quidilla, voter services coordinator. He said May 1 is the soonest the election could be held.

The $1.3 million was distributed to Hawaii by the federal government in 2003 to reimburse the state for new voting machines, but it was incorrectly put in a voting assistance fund instead of the state's general fund. Saito said the money can be spent on the election because the Legislature decides how to use the general fund.

The fact that the spending will need legislative approval validates Case's claim during a debate Wednesday that the governor could not just spend the money herself. Hanabusa had said lawmakers would not need to get involved.

“;Sen. Hanabusa yesterday didn't have her facts straight, or if she did it was directed at a strategy of putting the special election off as long as possible to advance her own political agenda to the detriment of the people of Hawaii,”; Case said yesterday. He said she wants more time to build campaign contributions and name recognition.

Hanabusa said she will not stand in the way if the Legislature's finance committee leaders decide to approve the election money. “;All I can say is that the election will be held when the executive authority calls it,”; Hanabusa said. “;That's when it's going to happen.”;

Djou said the law is clear that Hawaii cannot go unrepresented in Congress for long. “;One of the most important things in our democracy is democracy,”; Djou said. “;This is all positive. The ultimate beneficiaries are the voters of Hawaii.”;