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Hawaii Elections Commission Testimony

Hawaii Elections Commission
March 1, 2007

Chair Russell and Commissioners,

I am Jean Aoki, Legislative Chair of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

Iíd like to begin by thanking you all for your voluntary service to the state and its citizens in assuming the responsibilities of overseeing the elections process which we are sure involves a lot of study learning the laws and rules that are involved in making the complicated system work besides the minute details of procedures involved in making the elections process run efficiently and fairly so that all of our eligible citizens have access to the ballot and that all legitimately voted ballots are counted.

My comments hereafter about our concerns are not directed to you individually for this is my first attendance at any of your meetings. Also my remarks should not be construed as endorsing or opposing the reappointment of Mr. Yoshina because League policy does not allow such action. I would like to preface my remarks by saying that I did observe most of the meetings of the Election and Appointment Review Panel, the immediate predecessor to this Elections Commission, especially toward the end when they were preparing the questionnaire that would be sent out to the state and county elections staff members, volunteers working at the polling sites and counting centers, elected officials and other interested individuals, on the performance of the CEO.

The first I became aware that this commission was even meeting was from a second-hand call from someone who had received a call from an unofficial source that this commission had asked the current CEO to withdraw his application for reappointment.

A quick visit to the Lt. Governorís website, the Elections Office website and DAGís website revealed that all carried only the two page fact-sheet on the Elections Commission including the now outdated list of commissioners and their appointing authorities and some rules governing the filling of any vacancies should they occur, and the duties of the Commission. Absent were any mention of meetings, dates, time and meeting site.

I asked our President to write to the Office of Information Practices to inquire about the noticing requirement and she was told that the Commission was compliant in meeting the requirements of Chapter 92 in regards to noticing any meetings. I followed this with a call to the attorney on call that day at the OIP and was told that our expectations had been raised because many of the boards go beyond the requirements to assure access to their meetings on the part of the public.

Our request to you today is that at least one of the websites include the date, time, and meeting site and the agenda when it becomes available besides sending notices to those who request that service.

In going over the minutes of the five meetings that were available – the last being of the September 8th 2006 meeting, I saw no agenda items that relate to the evaluation of the performance of the CEO, reappointment or non-reappointment of Mr. Yoshina nor discussion of advertising soliciting applicants for the office.

The public has been kept in the dark on the events that led to the action of asking Mr. Yoshina to withdraw his application for reappointment and we are concerned about the lack of transparency of actions of this board.

I have not seen the agenda for the February 8th meeting. But had that been readily available, and the matter had been listed on the agenda, Iím sure you would have heard testimony for and against his reappointment.

Yesterday, the Honolulu Weekly carried an article by Ian Lind that the February 8th meeting was packed with Republican Party members, including party chairman, Sam Aiona, and Attorney General Mark Bennett, so they all seemed to know what might happen at that meeting. (The minutes of that meeting do not confirm that the meeting was packed with Republicans; there were some Democrats and others there).

According to this same article when Mr. Yoshina presented his application for reappointment, a motion was considered to immediately appoint a replacement. It was only the advise by the Attorney General (in executive session) that "they could not take any action because the meeting agenda did not provide proper public notice that the motion would be considered" that stopped consideration of that motion. Ian Lind speculates that perhaps that leaders of the two leading political parties have already reached a political understanding that includes a compromise candidate. If true, this would suggest that discussions are being held outside of the noticed meetings and decisions reached in violation of our sunshine law. Another concern of ours is that while Act 57 stipulates that one member, the 9th member, selected by a two-thirds vote of the Elections Commission would serve as chair, almost three years after this Commission was duly constituted, that person has not been selected.

What is the status of this commission? And why hasnít that ninth member been installed? Is no one qualified willing to serve? Does the commission have no intention of selecting the ninth person? Or is the commission so polarized along party lines that they cannot agree on the selection of that ninth member?

When the public is kept in the dark, speculations do tend to turn negative. I would remind this commission that elections and the process should belong to the people. Parties exist founded on their principles and beliefs about what government would do – and recruit candidates from their membership and advocate for their election.

But the elections and the process should belong to the people. The commission that actually should be a watchdog to see that elections are carried out so that all eligible voters have access to the voting process, that there are no actions taken to suppress voting, that the ballots are counted accurately and honestly, should be independent and free from political influence. The League of Women Voters would like to see a nonpartisan commission whose only mission is to serve all of the people of the state. Our selection process of commission members should guarantee that.

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