Officials, voters must meet halfway on new ballot
The primary election ballot this year is like a test, one so strict that missing the first question could earn you a failing grade.
And the unfortunate thing is, there won't be much time to study for it.
The likelihood of some voter confusion this year is one of the unintended consequences of the fray over the $43.4 million contract awarded to Hart InterCivic to run the elections.
The legal challenge a competitor filed over that award tied the hands of state elections officials and staff. They were prevented from working with Hart, as planned, on the production of an educational video about the new ballot.
That's one resource that won't be enlightening any voters in the weeks remaining before the Sept. 20 primary.
And there clearly is a need for public education on the ballot, on which voters have to mark the political party in which they will be choosing candidates.
It's required that they do so, which distinguishes it from previous primary ballots that were color-coded, drawing the voter's eye to sections with candidates of their chosen party.
If the voter fails to check off the party and votes in the wrong party sections, their votes won't count.
There's more potential confusion: Voters might hesitate to declare themselves with one party or another when they might not be a card-carrying member. And there are no color cues on this ballot to guide them, which could lead to errors voting across partisan lines.
The troubled state Office of Elections — reeling from the contract issue and other complaints over its handling of the candidate filing process — is scrambling to make the best of the time remaining. Staff this week will mail out 400,000 copies of a brochure spelling out voting requirements, including a tour of the ballot.
The brochure is available on its Web site (hawaii.gov /elections), where there is also a tool for finding polling places and other resources.
That's all fine, but the office needs to do everything it can to get the word out to the public through public-service outlets as well as through its paid educational campaign.
Kevin Cronin, the embattled agency chief, is accountable for ensuring that despite the tight schedule, staff and volunteers are adequately trained to help the voters. Because absentee voting is on the increase and those ballots generally come in early, there's no time to lose.
And those voters won't have a chance to redo a spoiled ballot, as will those who turn up at precinct stations.
It's incumbent on voters, too, to meet them halfway, by visiting the Web site and making sure they're clear on the process before completing their ballot.
The presidential campaign has energized the election season, sparking the hope of a better-than-usual voter turnout. But an ill-informed vote can be as futile as no vote at all.
Better get studying for that test.