Special vote tally to be delayed
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer
All the ballots would be tallied Sunday, Dec. 1, at one counting center on O'ahu, with Neighbor Island ballots being flown overnight to O'ahu by chartered aircraft.
The details of the handling of the election were worked out Friday, said Rex Quidilla, administrative assistant to state elections chief Dwayne Yoshina.
Observers from the various political parties will be involved in overseeing all parts of the process.
"We preserve all the checks and balances this way," Quidilla said.
Mink died Sept. 28. Her name remains on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The Nov. 30 special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held regardless of the outcome of that race. Thirty-eight candidates are seeking the seat.
If Mink wins the general election, the state will hold a second special election Jan. 4 to fill the 2nd District seat for the next two-year term. Quidilla said elections officials are not speculating on whether that election will be needed, but if it is, he said it would probably be handled much like the Nov. 30 election.
County clerks say they approve of the counting change.
"That's something I'm really in favor of," Hawai'i County Clerk Al Konishi said. "It will help reduce the cost, I believe. On our island, we'll fly one half (of the ballots) out of West Hawai'i and one out of East Hawai'i."
Maui County Clerk Roy Hiraga said ballots from Lana'i, Moloka'i and Hana will be flown to Kahului, and then sent together with the rest of Maui's ballots to Honolulu.
"I anticipate we'll have our delivery collection team accompanying the ballots in the aircraft" to ensure ballot security, Hiraga said.
Some features of the Nov. 30 special election are being borrowed from how the City and County of Honolulu handled the special election Jan. 26 to replace Andy Mirikitani on the City Council after his removal from office. In that election, the city did a number of things to reduce costs, including consolidating some precincts and counting the votes centrally instead of electronically at the precincts.
"We did that, too," City Clerk Genny Wong said. "We did a central count. And we had to relocate and consolidate some precincts."
In the Mirikitani replacement election, which was won by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, the votes were counted on election night. But Wong said that with the delays involved in flying ballots into Honolulu from across the state, next-day counting makes sense.
"I don't think they have a choice," she said.
Quidilla said many of the 190 or so precincts in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers rural O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands, will be consolidated with neighboring precincts.
"We'll have about half of that," Quidilla said. Voters will be sent cards by mail informing them of their new polling places. There will also be absentee mail and walk-in voting much as it exists for the regular elections.
County clerks said the consolidation is needed, in part because many normal ballotting locations are already reserved for other uses.
"From a practical consideration, we have to look at consolidation because we can't get some of the locations," said Kaua'i County Clerk Peter Nakamura.
In this year's primary and general elections, the ballots are actually counted by the machines at the polling places, although the results are stored on computer cards in the machines and not immediately reported. Those cards are brought to centralized counting centers in each county, where they are downloaded and the results printed out.
Under the special election system, ballots will simply be dropped in a box at the polling places, and after the voting will be sealed and delivered to the state Capitol for counting on Sunday, Dec. 1
One of the main savings will be in not having to write new programming and install computer cards with the new programming in counting machines in each precinct. Furthermore, by counting them all at one place, the state will not have to pay for the establishment of counting centers on each island.
There will be several high-speed ballot counters set up in the Senate Chambers of the state Capitol building. Ballots will be brought to the counting center that Saturday night, and the machines will begin counting them Sunday morning, Quidilla said.
"We expect it will take all day (to count the ballots). And it may go into the night. It depends on the turnout. If there are more ballots, it will take longer," he said.
City Clerk Wong does not expect a high turnout.
"It's unfortunate timing, between football and Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of Christmas shopping," she said.
The state does not yet know the exact cost of the election, since it is still negotiating with the state's elections equipment contractor, ES&S.
"We're trying to pare down the cost," Quidilla said.
Actual ballots will be about the same size as those used for regular elections, largely because there are so many candidates. Voters will only have to make a single mark by the candidate of their choice. The names of the 38 candidates for the seat will take up two columns of one side of the ballot, he said.
"It's a straightforward ballotopen it up, mark the race and pop it in. If the election were more complex, then there would be other considerations," Quidilla said.
The last time Kaua'i County's ballots were counted on O'ahu was in the 1992 primary election, when Hurricane Iniki shut off electricity to many parts of the island. The ballots from that election, held just eight days after the devastating storm, were hauled to O'ahu for counting in a Hawaii National Guard plane.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at firstname.lastname@example.org or (808) 245-3074.