(March 15, 1999)

Statement by Marion Higa, State Auditor, and Chair of Elections Oversight Committee

This news conference today will be longer and have more detail than most news conferences so I hope you will bear with us and hold all your questions until we have been through the information. At that time we will entertain your questions.

Why are we here and why did we go through this process?

There was an obvious problem with seven voting units from Election Systems and Software -- out of 361 units used on Election Day.

    • Five units had lens occlusion
    • One unit had a defective cable
    • One unit had a defective "read head"

To its credit, ES&S admitted its problem and worked with the state to fix the problems created by its equipment. As a result of the problems, the integrity of the election was called into question. The controversy was compounded by close races which led to charges made - but with no proof offered - of all kinds of voting irregularities.

This led to the Legislature calling for a statewide elections review - the first of its kind in the history of Hawaii and the first in the history of the U.S. as far as we know.

The Legislature specified that recounts of the November 1998 election be done with high speed InfraRed (IR) vote tabulation units so a different method could be used.

The Legislature called for an Oversight Committee to be formed consisting of three people. It named me, as State Auditor, and Doug Lewis, executive director of The Election Center in Houston, Texas, as specified members and it requested that a third nonpartisan person knowledgeable in elections be brought in. That person is Penelope Bonsall, director of the Federal Election Commission's Office of Election Administration, Washington, D. C.

The Legislature instructed the Oversight Committee to review the recount process as performed by the Office of Elections with the assistance of Election Systems and Software company.

Our purpose here today is to review our initial findings with the representatives of the news media prior to writing our final report to the Legislature.

While it may have been more desirable to wait and provide all results and observations to the Legislature in our March 31 report, we felt that too many questions would arise as a result of the delay. Added to our concerns about any delayed release of initial information, we felt that the public's overwhelming interest in this election and the concern for whether elections in Hawaii have integrity, dictated that we answer the questions as soon as possible.

This has been the most examined election in the history of Hawaii and maybe one of the most examined in the history of the United States.

The election - statewide - has now been counted at least three times.

    • First in November 1998
    • Second in March 1999 on high speed InfraRed (IR) equipment
    • Third in March 1999 on high speed Visible Light (VL) equipment
    • And a number of the races have had one - or more - manual recounts

The Oversight Committee observed most of the actual recounts and the security procedures of the Office of Elections to assure that a fair and complete review of the November 1998 election was conducted. We are now handing out Attachment A which describes a number of the functions we performed in this audit process.

In addition to our review, there were official observers in both the November election and in this March recount procedure. What we hope each of you relates to the public, is that the observers are NOT a part of the paid staff in elections, but rather citizens of our community who have a healthy skepticism about the elections process and have examined the process at each step along the way.

Our state and our people are fortunate to have neighbors who willingly give up their time to "watch" the elections on our behalf and to question actions taken by the elections staff In some cases, they have stopped the ballot counting on voting equipment in order to run unscheduled and surprise tests on voting equipment to assure that it is counting correctly. They did these kinds of tests in both the November 1998 election and also in this March 1999 review and recount.

Additionally, there were numerous watchers representing various groups both in Hawaii and from outside of Hawaii.

And then the county clerks and the elections directors of each of Hawaii's counties were present to watch and analyze this process and to provide input to the Oversight Committee.

Finally, there were you folks of the media to observe, question and shed light on this process.

Dwayne Yoshina and his staff have been the subject of criticism and allegations since last November.

So has the State's vendor Elections Systems and Software.

We will report in more detail the full result of our findings as requested by the Legislature That report is due March 31.

What you will see and hear today is a review of the entire process and our initial judgments concerning the November 1998 elections.

    1. The citizens of Hawaii can rest easy that elections have great integrity. The elections staff at both the state level and the local level are in good hands. Dwayne and his staff are competent people who are very knowledgeable about the process and who are committed to making sure that elections accurately reflect the will of the voters in each election.
      1. The county clerks and their elections staff have the highest regard for Dwayne and his staff and believe that they should be retained.
      2. We on the Oversight Committee feel that Dwayne and his staff operated professionally and within the expectations of normal elections procedure.
    2. The voting equipment used in the November election is indeed accurate and it counted the contests correctly by naming the correct winners and losers as reported in the November election. The county clerks have stated that they would like to continue with this type of system.
    3. Review of the seven areas where machines malfunctioned reveals that no new winners emerged after full examination of those races or contests.
    4. The final results of both statewide and countywide races showed in ALL instances voting results within less than 1% of the November totals and in most cases it was far less.
    5. Allegations of voter fraud have remained unproven. In fact, no credible evidence has been presented to demonstrate such fraud.
    6. Suspicions that blank ballots are far too low to be believed when compared to past elections is an unsubstantiated charge. Examination of actual blank ballots indicates that the voters knew exactly what they were doing.
    7. Elections are far more complex than publicly known and the procedures have far more safeguards built in than most people were aware of.
    8. Easy solutions offered for real or imagined problems in elections may result in weakening the process. The process is too complex to warrant tinkering by those who are unskilled in administering the process.
    9. Some review and/or changes in election laws may become necessary in the near term.
    10. Installation of any new voting system is likely to create mistakes and some confusion in the initial stages because it takes staff time to learn what the significant procedures are with a new system and that anticipating voter errors is an imprecise science.
    11. This review will be acceptable to reasonable people. It is unlikely that all charges, opinions or concerns can be totally answered to the satisfaction of those who base their concerns on fear and suspicion without concrete factual proof of allegations.
    12. Democracy is a fragile process too important to all of us to allow unfounded or unproven allegations.

What will happen today is that I want Dwayne to tell you what he and his people did to conduct this recount.

After he has finished, we will distribute and review with you the results of the recounts and actions taken by the Oversight Committee.

When we finish with that, I want to give Mr. Todd Urosevich time to talk about ES&S's failures and then successes in this process.

When all of that is done, we will open it up to questions. Please hold all questions until we have been through the materials. I believe they will answer many of your questions.

At that point you can question our outside experts as well as those directly involved in the process.

 

Attachment A

Elections Oversight Committee

Some of the steps followed by the Oversight Committee include:

  1. Read all the complaint letters concerning this election
  2. Listened to concerned citizens, legislators, observer groups, official watchers, elections officials, representatives of ES&S and the news media
  3. Investigated areas in the process that would indicate potential vulnerabilities in methods or practices
  4. Utilized knowledge of recount procedures and questions that occurred in recount situations in other states or jurisdictions
  5. Questioned the elections officials about procedures followed in the November election to assure that appropriate safeguards were implemented in this recount
  6. Ordered special tests to be performed on equipment
  7. Ordered manual hand counts beyond the six closest races to examine a variety of conditions including geographical representation, jurisdictional level of races, general election and OHA elections
  8. Performed testing and situation analysis of precinct level, district level, county and statewide levels
  9. Examined actual ballots to review first hand how voters marked ballots and assured ourselves that those ballots were counted correctly
  10. Selected samples of precincts as surprise audits as recommended by official observer groups
  11. Questioned County Clerks and election directors regarding procedures implemented by State election officials to assure that good election practices were followed
  12. Utilized the comparison team data compiled by the independent accounting firm of Arthur Andersen, one of the "Big Five" accounting firms; also used their data to help target additional areas of investigation
  13. When numbers created questions in our minds, directed staff and vendors to resolve those questions and verify the numbers

 
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