Friday, August 22, 2008
Legislature should investigate Hawaii election office
by Larry Geller
There is enough smoke surrounding the Office of Elections that the Legislature might think about conducting its own investigation into the integrity of the system.
What’s more important than our vote?
The issues around the Hart Intercivic contract, use of secret and therefore suspect software, and irregularities in procedure have been discussed here, but have also been covered by other blogs. Today’s Star-Bulletin editorial, Primary ballot change complicates voting, correctly points out that the Office of Elections has changed the previous ballot system, which was reliable and familiar to voters, with one designed to cause trouble and invalid votes (snippet):
…In previous primaries, voters selected a ballot color-coded for a party's candidates in partisan races. The new ballots will have voters checking one of six political parties, but all candidates' names will be listed on the same ballot.
This could cause confusion if voters think they can choose candidates from parties other than the one they checked. Voters also might mistakenly think they have to be registered party members. Others might consider themselves independent, check that and have their ballots rejected.
Cronin's office says instructions will be clear and voters at polling places will have a chance to redo their ballots if filled out incorrectly. However, that won't be possible when an absentee ballot is cast.
Star-Bulletin editors are right to highlight this bad decision, and restrained in their criticism. I would have liked to see the debate at their editorial conference about how much heat to put on Cronin, the Chief Elections Officer, for this very bad move.
I also think that we should no longer accept that he’s doing “a heck of a job” and get busy—immediately—to protect our elections. Just look at what this ballot change could mean:
Imagine that 2%, 5%, 10% or more of the voters are confused and have to re-do their ballots. Will there be enough extra ballots for them to fill out? Will there be enough time to process all the rejects before the polls close? How long will the lines grow as the confusion persists? How many voters will tear up their ballots rather than submit to the chaos?
The Star-Bulletin editorial continues (please read the whole thing):
Since absentee voting has grown in popularity - more than a third of total votes in the 2006 primary were by absentee ballots - the number of invalid ballots could increase.
There will be no helpful election officials handy to re-do those ballots. They’ll simply be lost if voters make a mistake.
The blogs are buzzing. Ian Lind today points to a post on the Progressive Democrats blog by long-time activist Bart Dame. Read that if you can, it’s very detailed on the myriad of issues challenging the system today.
I disagree with Bart on the value of open-source voting computer software. Anything is better than the secret software that completely erases citizen trust in these voting computers and makes us question the sanity of election officials nationwide who chose them (in fact, states are backing off on these computers while Hawaii seems to be creeping into bed with them) (see: Bring Jimmy Carter to Hawaii, please! Quickly!).
Open source software can be inspected by anyone. And geeks will jump at the opportunity. I doubt any funny business would get by. As time passes, open source software can only get better, and wrinkles in the system can be ironed out—in full public view.
But I’m only arguing one point. Bart’s discussion is very comprehensive. Check it out.
You’ll likely get steamed up at what he reveals about how our election system is being run. Secret meetings, questionable actions (like not allowing review of the ballots before they are printed).
If any of these actions are contrary to law, who’s enforcing the laws?
There’s time for our Legislature to hold hearings on what the blogs and newspapers have revealed. They better book the State Capitol auditorium, I’ll bet lots of people would attend.
The problem is there are no rules. Cronin has refused to promulgate Chapter 91 rules for anything so everything just ends up being arbitrarily “ruled” by guess who? That is really what the Maui case is about but the press thinks that readers are too dumb to “get” that (or maybe they’re too dumb to get it) so they say it is about the insecure phone lines which is only part of the case.