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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hawaii injunction blocks use of voting machines until rules set

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

A Maui judge issued an injunction yesterday preventing the state Office of Elections from using new voting machines or procedures in the 2010 elections without first adopting administrative rules.

The status of the new voting machines was already in doubt.

The state is appealing a ruling by an administrative hearings officer last August that canceled the contract for new voting machines after the 2008 elections because the Office of Elections acted in bad faith in awarding it to Hart InterCivic.

Maui Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza yesterday sided with five Maui residents who sued the state last July, arguing that the Office of Elections used voting systems guidelines without complying with the state's administrative rules. The residents also alleged the state transmits election results over telephone lines and the Internet without adopting administrative rules.

Cardoza said he will issue a written decision soon.

Kevin Cronin, the state's chief elections officer, declined to comment until he reviews Cardoza's written ruling. He said the state is discussing voting-machine options for 2010.

"Currently, the state does not have a voting system for the 2010 elections," he said. "But we are well aware and very concerned and we are working to resolve that issue."

The Office of Elections awarded a $43.4 million contract to Hart InterCivic last year for paper eScan and electronic eSlate voting machines through the 2016 elections, with an option to extend the contract to 2018. Election Systems & Software, which bid $18.1 million for the contract, challenged the award.

An administrative hearings officer determined the contract was actually worth $52.8 million and was "clearly unreasonable." The officer found it was too late to cancel the contract before the 2008 elections but ruled the contract should be voided at the end of last year.

The Maui residents, led by Robert Babson Jr., a former elections observer, had sought a preliminary injunction to stop the state from using the new voting machines before the 2008 elections. Cardoza denied the request because of the potential damage of an injunction so close to the elections.

Babson and the other residents alleged the Office of Elections did not follow administrative rules and also questioned whether election results could be sent from the Neighbor Islands to Honolulu over telephone lines and the Internet under state law. Babson, in a letter to Cronin last May, warned that the transmission process gives the vendor the potential ability to "flip" votes between candidates and "change the outcome of elections."

Babson has argued in public forums that computerized voting systems in general are susceptible to hackers. He has called for a federal law that would, among other things, require paper ballots for all voters in all elections. Paper ballots, he has said, would make manual audits and recounts possible if necessary. He has also urged the use of independent computer expert teams to check voting machines before elections and to observe the vote count on election day.

"They're very relieved," said Lance Collins, a Wailuku attorney representing the Maui residents. "They feel like there's more assurances now for the 2010 elections. There will be no doubt in anybody's mind about the legitimacy of the voting process."