Wednesday, August 1, 2012


YOU CAN TRUST US- WE'RE WITH THE GOVERNMENT: The brouhaha over 2010 voting irregularities on the Big Isl and the way they have been handled has stuck a nerve with us over an incident here on Kaua`i in the 90's.

According to an Associate Press article today:

An audit of Hawaii County's registered voter rolls found four people voted twice in 2010 elections and between 50 and 60 people were registered more than once, County Clerk Jamae Kawa­uchi said Tuesday.

Kawauchi says her office found no sign of systemic problems. She says a clerical error may be at fault, but she reported the four voters who cast ballots twice to the state attorney general's office during a meeting last week.

She said it's not up to her whether there will be an investigation into the matter, and declined to comment further.

Having people registered twice can happen. It is usually simply the result of the elections office failing to purge someone's old address when they move for one reason or the other.

It's the fact that the system didn't pick it up when someone- actually four someones- voted twice that bothers most people- that and the fact that no real explanation has been forthcoming either from Kawauchi or state election Chief Scott Nago.

While the seriousness of the incident is rightly or wrongly being played down by both, we've always wished we had pressed the matter of possible fraud over a stack of ballots all during the '94 election on Kaua`i.

Checking the signatures of absentee ballots has always been a community effort and then, as now, the county clerk invites representatives of the various political parties as well as non-partisan organizations- like the League of Women Voters (LWV)- and just plain interested citizens to act as "observers" by "checking signatures" against the originals on voters' applications.

Back then the number of mail-in absentee ballots was miniscule compared to today now that there's things like "permanent absentee status" along with a publicity campaign to convince people of the ease of mail-in voting... not to mention the fact that some precincts have actually been eliminated because there are too few people to make opening a voting center on election day justifiable as to cost.

But the method of checking the signatures back then was downright anachronistic, searching though boxes of alphabetized paper "originals" instead of using the computer-scanned copies of signatures used today.

We were there with LWV- Kauai and then-County Clerk "Bunji" Shimomura had assigned three-member teams- one each from the Democrats and Republicans and one non-partisan- and our group was assigned a "stack" beginning with all the ballots cast from Ni`ihau since there was no polling place on the island.

For those who've never voted by mail the way it works is that to avoid fraud voters place their ballots in a "secret ballot" envelope which is then sealed in a mailing envelope which must be signed on the outside so that by checking signatures you can tell if the person voting is the same person who registered, while at the same time protecting the secrecy of the vote.

"Signature checkers" was were told to give some latitude for the fact that people's signatures vary over time, especially when you're dealing with seniors. It's gotta be pretty obvious that the signer wasn't the same in order to reject a ballot- but it does happen.

We never saw a case in a half a dozen elections where the questions of actual fraud came up- except for "the Ni`ihau incident."

We were assigned a stack of ballots from "the Forbidden Island." So we started to go through them and one by one and guess what? The signatures on the envelopes didn't seem to be matching up with the original signatures on the registration forms. Not only that but by the time we had gotten through the first half dozen it didn't take a handwriting expert to see that a pattern was emerging- all of the envelopes were quite obviously signed by the same person.

We called Bunji over and there was no disagreement- the ballots had to be tossed. But when we asked what would be done Shimomura, who had been through many elections, convinced us to let it go and not "bring in the authorities" for an investigation.

So we reluctantly agreed to just toss them and leave it at that- something we've always sort of regretted.

The next two elections we went straight to the Ni`ihau ballots to see if the pattern had repeated itself but the answer was no- the signatures were apparently valid in '96 and '98. But we'll always wonder whether we make a mistake in not demanding that someone try to find out who exactly signed all those ballots.

We've never doubted Bunji's integrity or honesty but others said that they had the sneaking suspicion that a "word to the wise" had been passed on to whomever had enough authority to pull off the massive fraud that had obviously been perpetrated with the Ni`ihau ballots.

It's said by election officials that the current Big Island revelations are "nothing out of the ordinary" and that "these things happen" all the time. Yet there has been no explanation from election authorities as to exactly how and why. Rather they say that since there was "no pattern" revealed that there would be no further explanation forthcoming as to how four voters were apparently permitted to vote twice.

The official excuse that to further explain would "diminish the confidence of voters" in the system is seemingly bogus. It's not as if this kind of thing hasn't been a pattern for the elections bureau which was recently forced to promulgate official Chapter 91 Administrative Rules regarding communicating results after a lawsuit was filed.

But while those rules have been enacted there are still many areas in Hawai`i election law that that have no rules in place. Much is still catch-as-catch-can and seemingly arbitrarily put in place in a reactive rather than proactive manner.

It's time for the elections bureau to promulgate rules for all situations, especially those like this where if nothing else a full public explanation is due.

The damage to any confidence the public may or may not have is done. The only way to repair it now is to shine the light of day on the decision-making used by election officials for situations where apparently abnormalities can and do occur.

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