Combined Newsletter Issue
President's Message (Pearl Johnson)
Elections Commission (Jean Aoki & Pearl Johnson)
A Revolution from the Court? (Mary G. Wilson)
Act 244 - Hawaii County Council - Campaign Finance Project (Sue Dursin & Sue Irvine)
Hawaii County Report (Helen Hemmes)
No Voting Machines Yet, No Chief Elections Officer, Elections Plan We Cannot Support
It's been a busy couple of months. Our activism plates have been filled with problems even before we could digest and react and/or solve anything.
Months ago we found out about the huge challenges facing the State Elections Office: a very limited budget and restrictions placed on the use of the money; the hiring freeze for all agencies; legal challenges to past actions and future plans; a Court order requiring the approval of administrative rules before the Request for Proposal for voting systems could be activated; and more. Right now, we do not have a voting system to use in the 2010 Elections. Nor have four permanent positions - heads of vital sections who should have been on the job working on their responsibilities a year ago – been filled. The Elections Office does not have the money to hire them and 18 seasonal workers, even if the hiring freeze were dismissed.
We've spent time going over the administrative rules, no mean feat because what we were sent was a mish-mash of what has been retained, deleted, added, or amended. The hearing on these rules is scheduled for December 10. It will be through audio-visual conferencing centers from all of the counties.
Proposed Plan for Election 2010 - Plus a Bomb Shell
With the Elections Commission meeting scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on December 2, we received on the afternoon of December 1 the plan for the execution of the 1010 Elections. While I was still poring over this and analyzing its provisions, a phone call from one of the newspapers informed me that our Chief Elections Officer, Kevin Cronin, had issued a statement that he would be resigning at the end of December. Taken by surprise, I had no reaction to declare. This is now another challenge facing the Elections Commission, with the Primary Election less than 10 months away.
The next morning, I scrapped my prepared testimony, realizing the momentous issues facing the commission, and made a very brief report, expressing first our regret that things had ended this way. I also commended Chief Elections Officer Cronin for persevering through a difficult period until he felt he had met his responsibilities to the best of his ability by completing what he considers the best plan for executing the Elections of 2010.
That said, I declared that the League of Women Voters could not support the plan which would cut close to 30% of the polling sites. With voter participation dead last in the nation, we cannot afford to make it more inconvenient for voters to go to the polls. Also, this plan would urge voters to vote absentee by mail or go to early-voting sites to relieve the fewer polling sites of long lines of voters. This would add to the work load at the county offices which would be responding to the requests for absentee ballots and checking signatures for their validity as the voted ballots were mailed in.
On Election Day, the counting centers would need workers to process and prepare the ballots for the counting machines, including dealing with torn or crumpled ballots and those accidentally slit by the envelope slitting machines. Mail delivered by the Post Office up to 6:00 p.m. and absentee ballots stuffed into the ballot boxes at the polling sites must be processed, beginning with the verification of signatures. As it is, it takes till midnight or later for the processing; the added load would require more workers or more time.
Compare this to the easy counting of votes by optical scanning machines. You fill in the ovals on your ballot, feed it into the machine, and voila, your vote is counted. Or, if you made some error like over voting or crossing party lines in the Primary Election, your ballot is rejected and you are given as many chances as needed to correct your errors. (I was able to slip in some of these advantages during the discussion that followed.)
Public Allowed to Participate More in the Discussions
At that point, when a motion to move into executive session was made, Jo Byrne, Chair of Common Cause Hawaii, and others in the audience protested that we wanted to have more discussion on the plan. It was apparent that the commissioners had not had time to study the report since some of them only received them that morning, so I suggested that Mr. Cronin summarize the main points in the plan. After that, members of the audience were freely allowed to participate in the discussion, and even ask questions.
It was made clear at this time that the 14 full-time staffers would have to do the work that is normally done by 33 full-time and seasonal staffers, at least until July 1, 2010 when the new fiscal year begins and would bring in some money. Much of the work that ordinarily would be done now and financed by this year's fiscal budget would have to be put off to July 1. Even then, it is not certain that we can afford or find these workers.
At some point during this discussion, I was asked if the League of Women Voters would be able to help the Elections Office. (The voter service section chair is one of the positions vacant.) I replied that every election year, our local Leagues as well as State League do focus on voter service, and we would do what we can. (This is something we need to discuss.)
At that point, the commission went into executive session, and when they went back to the public session, a motion to accept Mr. Kevin Cronin's resignation, was passed unanimously.
While there was speculation that an interim Chief or a permanent one would be selected, the commission did not name anyone.
We Must Oppose the Consolidation of the Polling Sites
Voting in our democracy is not only a responsibility and a privilege, it is power. We can use it to shape policy if all of us would only use it. We in Hawaii do not have initiative, the process whereby citizens in some states can sign a petition to amend the constitution or pass a law and with enough signatures, place it on the ballot for voter approval. We do not have petition referendum whereby we can overturn any law passed by the legislature using the same process as for initiative. What we have is the power of the vote, to select the officials who determine the policies of this state and the executives who would administer these policies. We can use this power to approve or reject proposed amendments to the constitution placed on the ballot by our elected officials.
If we want a strong, vibrant democracy, we must encourage voter participation, not put obstacles in its way.
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