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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

Renewed term for elections officer stirs controversy

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Hawai'i Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina has been thrown into the center of political controversy, with a member of the Elections Appointment and Review Panel questioning whether his reappointment this week is legal.

The panel voted 3-2 on Thursday to reappoint Yoshina to a four-year term, with all opposing votes from members appointed by Republicans.

The panel recessed its meeting until Sept. 25 while it waits for an opinion from the state attorney general's office as to whether the vote was legal.

Yoshina, who is paid $77,966 a year, came under harsh criticism in 1998 after it was learned that seven electronic ballot-counting machines had malfunctioned, prompting an unprecedented recount of the general election. The recount verified the original outcomes.

The 1998 elections were the first in which Hawai'i used optical-scanning vote counters, replacing an antiquated punch-card system.

Panel member Warner "Kimo" Sutton said the reappointment vote was not legal because it did not follow parliamentary procedures and the panel did not advertise the chief elections officer's position, as it had decided to do this year.

"Dwayne might have been the best one we would have gotten, but there were no applications," Sutton said. "It puts a huge cloud of mistrust on the elections office because of the way that he was put in.

"For (panel chairman Ray Pua) to close (the position) is arrogant and irresponsible, irrational and possibly demented."

Sutton and member Philip Leas also said the vote was premature, as Yoshina's evaluation was not yet complete.

But Pua and member Kenneth Hashimoto say the evaluation is complete. Trudie Kiessling also voted for Yoshina's reappointment.

Pua said survey responses and feedback from hundreds of people, including some who appeared before the committee and poll workers, were "overwhelmingly favorable."

"Based on the evaluation of Mr. Yoshina and the operations, there was no reason for us not to appoint him," Pua said.

"I would hope that we would have had a consensus, but obviously politics is involved," he added.

Pua also said state election laws do not require the panel to advertise for the position, and that it did not do so when it last reappointed Yoshina in 1999.

Pua said he and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona had an informal agreement to, "in his words, 'open up the process' and allow other applicants to apply for the position." He said Aiona "informally agreed" to pay for the advertising, but later told him there was no money.

Sutton called that a red herring, citing a February meeting in which a deputy attorney general affirmed that the panel could receive money from the Office of Elections. That office, which was administratively attached to the lieutenant governor's office, was transferred to the state Department of Accounting and General Services in June.

Pua said he did not think it was appropriate to use money from the Office of Elections to advertise the position, and that the panel had been denied money for three years.

Yoshina and the secretary for the panel could not be reached yesterday to comment.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.