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Election machines dispute settled for $1.2M

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The Attorney General’s Office is seeking $1.2 million in state funds to settle a 2008 protest filed against the Office of Elections over the agency’s awarding of a contract for electronic voting machines that year.

The contract was among several administrative missteps by Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin before he abruptly resigned at the end of 2009 after less than two years on the job.

Attorney General David Louie’s office included the amount in its annual request to the Legislature to settle claims against the state.

"A former chief elections officer of the state of Hawaii was found by (a hearings officer) to have violated (the state procurement code) … when he awarded a multi-term contract for voting equipment to Hart InterCivic Inc. without conducting the required analysis of the proposals," Louie’s office stated in testimony.

The settlement with a competing vendor, Elections Systems & Software, was reached in February. It is subject to legislative approval.

"Sometimes it takes a long time to settle a case," Joshua Wisch, an attorney general’s spokesman, said Wednesday.

The protest stems from a decision by Cronin shortly after he took over the job in February 2008.

Hart InterCivic was awarded a $43.3 million contract for new electronic voting machines through the 2016 elections, with an option to extend it to 2018. ES&S, which had submitted a competing bid at $18 million, protested the award.

In August 2008, an administrative hearings officer ruled the Elections Office acted in bad faith in awarding the contract, which he described as "clearly unreasonable," to Hart. With the 2018 option, the court officer estimated the cost of the contract at about $53 million.

After the protest, Cronin defended the award, saying he analyzed both bids and found ES&S’ to be insufficient. Cronin said he had the "misfortune to be the subject of a protest and appeal that takes advantage of an obscure statute that is not clear and equally obtuse rules."

The hearings officer said Cronin, by his own admission, was unqualified to do the cost analysis and acted in bad faith by attempting to "manipulate both the data and the facts in order to justify the award."

Because of the timing and impact that a new bidding process would have had on the September primary election, the hearings officer allowed Hart voting machines to be used for the 2008 elections, but canceled the contract at the end of that year.

The state appealed and the matter was in dispute until a settlement was reached in February.

The settlement sets aside $1.05 million to ES&S and $150,000 to Hart InterCivic. Wisch said the Attorney General’s Office does not release details of settlement negotiations. Chief Election Officer Scott Nago, who succeeded Cronin, referred questions to Louie’s office.

Cronin resigned at the end of 2009 without giving a reason.

His tenure was marked by legal challenges, including the 2008 contract award and a challenge on Maui that was upheld by a Circuit Court judge that the voting machines were approved without proper administrative rules. New rules had to be adopted before the 2010 contract could be executed.

Hart bid again for the 2010 contract and won after ES&S was disqualified because it would not accept the state’s liabilities requirement. The new contract continues through 2016 and cost $11 million.

Cronin also came under heavy criticism from the Legislature in 2009 for mismanaging the department and leaving it without funds needed to carry out the 2010 election or even pay its electricity costs for that year. Cronin had submitted an election plan that called for closing more than a quarter of the state’s voting precincts because of a lack of staff and budget.

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