Sunday, May 16, 2010


Key facts omitted from Advertiser front-page election story

by Larry Geller

The print edition headline in today’s Advertiser is “Preparations for primary elections behind schedule,” but the story doesn’t tell you why that happened.

Planning for the 2010 election season got off to a rocky start last year, with the resignation of the state's chief elections officer, delayed contract procurement for voting machines, and budget cuts that put seasonal hires in jeopardy and led to the decision to cut the number of polling stations.   [Honolulu Advertiser, Hawaii preparations for fall elections behind schedule, 5/16/2010]

News Hole True, but the omissions are huge, especially the omission of the Governor’s role in crippling the Office of Elections as she slashed budgets of state departments.

In addition to the budget cuts that forced the office to announce the closure of so many polling places for the 2010 elections, the Governor essentially shut down the office by later cutting their budget an incredible 94%.

That was the news that has disappeared from today’s article. Also nowhere to be found is mention of the lawsuits that blocked procurement of voting machines. The huge snafu can’t be summed up as merely “delayed contract procurement.”

Readers of this blog got the news in Administration cuts put Hawaii 2010 elections in jeopardy, (7/15/2009):

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 $517,000 figure, if accurate, means that today’s report is not:

The Legislature approved $390,000 in emergency funding for the office, bringing its budget to near-2008 levels. Of the appropriation, about $140,000 went to cover some costs of the special election. The rest went to expenses for the regular 2010 election season, including for about 15 seasonal hires.

At least, the discrepancy needs to be explored and explained.

The Advertiser story reported that the Legislature apportioned money for the election this session but not that release of the money is up to the Governor, as it was last year when she swung her axe. While it’s unlikely she would again cut enough to cripple the office, what money they do get is still dependent on what she chooses to release. Lawmakers have no power to deliver their apportionment to the office of elections.

Last year she made it clear that the 94% cut was not just an inadvertent slip of an accountant’s pencil:

Asked if she would release the restricted money, Lingle said, "We are not going to do that." She added, "Every department is dealing with the same level of restriction and having to make adjustments and continue to operate and they are going to have to do the same.   [Star-Bulletin, Office wants more money for elections, 7/23/2009]

The Advertiser wrote only “budget cuts that put seasonal hires in jeopardy,” thereby disappearing the Governor’s responsibility for the crisis that the Office of Elections today finds itself in.

The state did have to create new Administrate Rules before voting machines could be purchased, as the article noted. But it omitted that the rules were needed because the state had just lost one of four pending lawsuits against it related to the procurement of voting equipment.

From that same July, 2009 article in Disappeared News:

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.

While the article was upbeat about potential voter turnout in the 2010 elections, there is still the possibility that people will drive to the same place they’ve been used to casting their vote for years only to find the polling place closed, and return home. No one can really predict the effect of closing and consolidating so many precincts.


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