A Summary From The Hawaii Political Trenches
Letter To The Election Commission

by Milo Clark

October 18, 2004   


(Swans - October 18, 2004)   After four intense months of digging into the Hawaii Election system -- ferreting out weak points, probing into processes -- I begin to understand a "system impossible." We are living a 21st century version of the Emperor's Clothing fable. How could it be otherwise?

Economist-philosopher Leopold Kohr with keen insight observed that every system has an appropriate size and complexity within which it functions. When that size and complexity are exceeded, the system implodes. All around us major systems are imploding. Enron is a norm rather than exception in corporate and financial worlds. Campaign finance charades set off successions of fix and evade, fix and evade with the norm being to evade. The unquenchable thirsts for petrochemicals to drive our vehicles and our material desires as well as bodily props, bring wars. Next will come water wars. Millions starve, children die in droves, AIDS decimates entire societies, ethnic cleansing persists. America's core political system falls around our ankles. Hawaii's election system is imploding. A shell, a facade, persists while inside officials, staff and employees rush around throwing up props and shoring up paper walls.

Prior to an election, Hawaii requires that all voting machines be tested and certified by Official Observers. In 2004, that requirement crashes into system actualities. Attempting to run, in parallel, two quite different physical and digital processes fails. A very small group of people called "Official Observers," almost entirely without a clue, go through superficial motions and declare sets of machines far beyond their capacities to understand to be "tested" after which they are "certified" for use. How beautiful the Emperor's new suit! One or two Official Observers with a bit of capability to understand systems processes may attempt to be thorough in testing. In Hawaii County, with a population of 150,000, there are 71 precincts. With two voting systems for 2004, over 150 machine sets (one each per precinct) must be tested and certified. For the existing "paper" ballot system furnished by Election Systems and Software (ES&S), testing one set of 13 M100 precinct counting machines with 50 test ballots requires more than two hours.

Most observers run a cursory 5 to 10 test ballots through their assigned machine sets. The new Hart eSlate DRE system, the dreaded "paperless" digital voting machines, is a totally different breed. The methods used to test ES&S machines are nearly useless and illusory at best when applied to Hart eSlate systems. However, illusion is required. To process the same number of ES&S "ballots," with choices for every race, on every Hart eSlate machine set, if attempted, would take days rather than hours. Imagine Oahu! Miami-Dade County in Florida, attempting to understand and to work out problems from the 2000 election debacles, commissioned an expensive and extensive study. It recommends transparency, community involvement, education and training. It recommends leadership, skills, money and time -- all of which fail if political will fails.

Without community and political will, probability is that Hawaii will stay in illusion about its election system. Our Emperor will wear ever more beautiful suits. Unknown is when a child will tell us the Emperor is naked.

The Persian poet, Rumi, says, "There is right. There is wrong. There is a field beyond. I'll meet you there."

The new Hawaii Election Commission's primary task may be to galvanize community and political will. Only by meeting in the field beyond do we have a chance to revitalize an election system and to restore community trust.

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US Elections & Democracy on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).

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Published October 18, 2004
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