Monday, June 22, 2009

Closing precincts could hurt voter turnout

The Office of Elections has proposed to the legislature to close 66 precincts prior to issuing a Request for Proposals for a new state voting system. A copy of the proposal can be found here. The precincts tagged for possible closure are all on Oahu. The Elections Office indicated that the neighbor islands had already consolidated their precincts in previous years.

Majority Leader Blake Oshiro offered his comments on the proposal in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

"I think, unfortunately, a lot of voters tend to be creatures of habit," said Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa). "I just think it's rife with the opportunity for a lot of confusion and people getting frustrated and, worse yet, missing their opportunity to participate in an election."

Speaker Calvin Say voiced similar concerns in The Advertiser:

"I would be very concerned if they have to close or not open the 66 precincts throughout the state of Hawai'i," he said. "Accessibility to a precinct poll is so important to the public at large and you can see that in the results of the voting for our neighborhood boards. The results were so poor."

The reduced number of precincts would mean that the Office of Elections would have a reduced number of voting machines to procure, thus resulting in some cost savings. The RFP for the voting system is scheduled to be published on July 1st, and if all goes according to plan, a contractor would be selected by September of 2009. The system needs to be in place prior to the upcoming 2010 election, which will include races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Congressional District 1, possibly Mayor, certain Council seats, half of the State Senate and all of the House of Representatives. By all accounts, a critical election year.

Also at issue is the fact that there is a cloud over the procurement of voting machines for the 2008 election. The Star-Bulletin writes:

Last year's election, including 800 voting machines, ballots and support services, cost $6.5 million, Cronin said.

A new contract is required because of legal challenges pending against a contract awarded last year.

The Elections Office had awarded a 10-year, $43 million contract to Texas-based Hart InterCivic. A competing firm, Nebraska-based ES&S, which had submitted a $19 million bid, protested the contract.

An administrative hearings officer ruled against the Elections Office last August, but said it was too late to rescind the contract. Hart conducted the elections for 2008, but the remainder of the contract was voided. The state has appealed.

A commenter on the Advertiser online story points out to what may be a flaw in the proposal:

lipscomb2 wrote:

There's a fine example of illogic: Fewer precincts means fewer voting machines! In actuality, it's not the number of precincts, it's the number of voters, that determines how much voting equipment is needed. The amount of voting equipment needed will decrease only if there are fewer people voting in the precincts. And that will result only from a combination of two factors: more mail-in ballots, and more voters who choose not to vote at all. This proposal seems aimed at one or both of the latter results.

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