Tuesday, January 05, 2010

 

Hearing shows Hawaii special election funding is still in limbo


by Larry Geller

With a 94% cut in its budget, Hawaii’s Office of Elections can’t pay for any election in 2010. Now it has an additional challenge since Congressman Neil Abercrombie announced he will resign to run for governor on February 28. The state will need to hold a special election to fill the vacancy much earlier than the primary or general elections of 2010.

For some reason the informational briefing held yesterday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee obsessed over the question of whether the Chief Elections Officer was the “Executive Authority” that can call an election in Hawaii. The US Constitution vests the authority to call an election in the “Executive Authority” of each state, presumably the governor, but Hawaii law requires that the Chief Elections Officer issue the writ of election.

The committee received extensive testimony from the Attorney General on this. Later Chair Donna Mercado Kim (and some other committee members) pursued  Interim Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago and his general council on the same issue.

It was Senator Chun Oakland who went back again and again to the question of funding, whether an emergency appropriation must be requested, and whether the Office of Elections will ask the governor to release funds.

Still later it turned out that there is an audit in progress and that preliminary results showed that a $1.3 million check deposited in 2003 in a HAVA (Help America Vote Act) special fund should have been deposited in the General Fund. This would need to be fixed by having Budget and Finance transfer the funds with whatever interest has accrued. In theory, that money would be available to run the upcoming special elections.

The committee did not go into how the money would be obtained from the General Fund, and the question of whether the Governor would release it was not even addressed.

Oh, and the Elections Commission had not heard about that money at all, according to its chair, who was present at the hearing. No one told the Commission about this possible solution to the funding dilemma.

Now, given the uncertainty over whether the “Executive Authority” was the Governor or the Chief Elections Officer, if it matters at all (and the AG indicated it would not, unless there were some kind of challenge), you’d think the Legislature, somebody, would say “we’ll just fix the law” and end this discussion that way. Maybe that will come about as a result of this informational briefing. It should. The question is a side issue and a distraction.

Of course, if the question is unimportant, they could just leave it as is, but then please, stop asking about it.

Much more important is what happens when the Chief Elections Officer does issue the writ of election. Whether the election takes place by mail or in traditional polling places, it can’t be paid for by IOUs.




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