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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Aiona wants secretary of state

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona

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Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona yesterday said he wants state lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to establish a nonpartisan, elected secretary of state to administer elections.

Aiona would eliminate the state's chief elections officer and repeal the powers of the state Elections Commission, giving the elected secretary of state the authority to oversee the state Office of Elections.

Most states have elected or appointed secretaries of state to handle a variety of administrative tasks, while lieutenant governors perform some of those functions in Hawai'i, Alaska and Utah.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, secretaries or lieutenant governors in 39 states serve as chief elections officials.

The lieutenant governor in Hawai'i used to administer elections, but lawmakers in 1995 shifted the responsibility to an independent chief elections officer. Some lawmakers were concerned at the time about the appearance of a conflict by having an elected lieutenant governor in charge of elections.

Lawmakers in 2004 created the state Elections Commission to help oversee elections policy, with the responsibility to hire and fire the chief elections officer.

But Aiona, a Republican running for governor, said an elected secretary of state would be more accountable. He said voters now have no direct authority over the Office of Elections.

Budget cuts and management issues at the Office of Elections have influenced preparations for the September primary and November general election. Legal challenges have also left the state with no voting machines until new administrative rules are adopted.

The Elections Commission is searching for a permanent chief elections officer to replace Kevin Cronin, who resigned last month after nearly two years on the job.

Scott Nago is serving as the interim chief.

"I am proposing a solution to establish a direct line of accountability, improve efficiency and increase public involvement in our election system," Aiona said in a statement. "It is critically important for voters to gain more control over this vital part of our democracy. We must restore integrity and confidence in the system. Now is the time for change."

State lawmakers must agree to place the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he is open to hearing Aiona's proposal.

"That will be a good discussion. I'll be open to it," he said. "But I don't see the immediate need for an elected person to run it. I still think an appointed official suffices."

State Sen. Brian Tanigu-chi, D-10th (Mänoa, McCully), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, also said he would hear the idea.

He noted that others have favored an elected attorney general, similar to the elected Honolulu prosecutor.

"You toss that into the political thing then, certain people — not all — but certain people get impacted by the political side more than just doing the job as AG," he said.