Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Administration cuts put Hawaii 2010 elections in jeopardy
by Larry Geller
Across the board budget cuts have taken a toll on almost every state agency, but perhaps none have been so drastically affected as the elections office.
At this point, budget cuts for the Hawaii state Office of Elections reveal that not only do they not have enough funds to prepare for the general elections next year, they probably do not have enough to keep the lights on past September 2009.
The Office sent a report to the Legislature on June 15 on proposed precinct closings as cost savings, but exactly one month later it seems the office faces far more desperate challenges.
The budget for the last round, 2008, was $517,000 and of that, only $150 was turned back as unused. But for 2010 only $33,000 is left after mandated cuts. That’s a 94% cut. Looking at 2008, approximately $120,000 alone would be needed to transport ballots securely throughout the state.
The money simply is not there to mount an election.
As to operational funds, only $14,000 remains for this year, and monthly expenses run around $7,000. When the money is gone, the electricity goes off.
Add to that—key positions such as warehouse and IT staff remain unfilled and (without money) unfillable. If hiring remains frozen, an election is not possible.
The office also is challenged by some recent legal issues. As a result of a Maui court decision in Babson v. Cronin, Judge Joseph E. Cardoza granted an injunction against Hawaii’s use of electronic voting machines and the illegal transmission of vote results over the Internet. The state will have to draw up and have administrative rules in place before the election, a process that includes holding public hearings. Without staff or funds, it is hard to see how those rules will be ready.
There are other suits (ES&S v. Cronin, Hart InterCivic v. ES&S, Cronin v. ES&S) that will also require attention.
The budget still includes $2.8 million allocated by the Legislature for voting machines, but that money cannot be diverted to operating expenses.
Of course, there will be elections in 2010. The administration will have to find funds to restore the operational capacity of the Office of Elections before the feds come to visit the State Capitol. With only $14,000 in the operational budget, some quick action seems to be called for. It’s unfortunate but more essential social services are likely to be cut so that we can vote next year.
Planning for the 2010 elections is on the agenda for the Elections Commission meeting to be held on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 10 a.m. in Room 309 of the State Capitol. Public testimony will be accepted. This will be the first opportunity that the administration will have to provide a proposal to fulfill their obligation to fund the 2010 elections.