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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

$1.3M sought for special election


By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

The state Office of Elections has asked for an emergency appropriation of $1.3 million to help finance a special election to fill the remaining months of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's term in Congress.

The $1.3 million is related to Hawai'i's share of federal Help America Vote Act funds to improve elections administration, and a recent federal audit found that the money should have been placed in the state's general fund years ago.

Scott Nago, the state's interim chief elections officer, said a special election could be held as soon as May 1, provided that his cash-strapped office receives the funding and the state acquires new voting machines.

Nago said the $1.3 million would cover the cost of an all-mail special election about $925,000 and help with preparations for the September primary and November general elections.

A spokesman for Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday that the governor had not yet seen the request. The governor must ask the state Legislature to approve the emergency appropriation.

Kevin Cronin, the state's former chief elections officer, had initially suggested that budget cuts may delay a special election until the September primary. But Nago has said his intention is to hold the vote as soon as possible, and state Attorney General Mark Bennett predicted a legal challenge if the special election is delayed until September because of the budget deficit.

Under state law, the soonest a special election could be held is 60 days after Abercrombie's Feb. 28 resignation. The congressman is resigning to concentrate on his Democratic primary campaign for governor. His two-year term runs until early January 2011.

The timing of a special election has become an issue among the three candidates in the winner-take-all campaign.

Former congressman Ed Case and Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou have said a special election should be held as soon as possible so Hawai'i would have full representation in Congress. State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa has raised doubts about whether the Office of Elections can get the money and voting machines in place by May. She has also said voters should be given adequate time to register and learn about the method of voting if it is an all-mail election.

Case, who has higher name recognition among voters, has said Hanabusa wants a delay to give her more time to build her campaign.

If an emergency appropriation does come before the Legislature, Hanabusa said she would probably recuse herself in "an abundance of caution."

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th (Hālawa, Moanalua, Kamehameha Heights), the chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, had thought a May timetable may be too ambitious.

But she said lawmakers would likely approve the emergency request. "If we have to have a special election and it's not going to be combined with the primary election, then I think we're forced to," she said.