The commission charged with redrawing the state’s voting boundaries has voted that Hawaii should stick with its current system of single-member legislative districts or go back to multimember districts, something the state has not seen since 1982.
Commission members discussed the issue during a Thursday afternoon meeting at the Capitol. Five members voted that they supported single-member districts and four members said they favored allowing districts to have more than one representative.
Commission member Harold Matsumoto stated that he opposed multimember districts, noting that they open the door to misrepresentation of residents.
“I think it’s a constitutional problem,” he said at the meeting.
But the Hawaii Attorney General has sent the redistricting panel a letter advising commissioners that it wouldn’t be unconstitutional to go back to multimember legislative districts.
Nationally, house districts in six other states are represented by more than one lawmaker.
Still unresolved is whether or not nonresident military personnel living in Hawaii should be included in population counts used by the commission. The panel plans to make its decision on what comprises Hawaii’s population base at its next meeting, scheduled for June 15.
Both the Maui and Kauai advisory councils oppose including military personnel who are not permanent residents in the population count. Whether or not they are counted could significantly change political districting on neighbor islands, which have much a much smaller military presence than Oahu.
Maui’s council chair Madge Schaefer cited a 1992 constitutional amendment passed by voters, which she believes can be interpreted to mean that military personnel and their dependents would not be included.
“It’s the elephant in the room that we can’t ignore,” she said.
Not everyone agrees with Schaefer. The constitutional amendment is open to interpretation. The 1992 amendment question read simply: “Shall the reapportionment commission use the total number of permanent residents instead of the number of registered voters as the reapportionment base?”
The attorney general has yet to weigh in on the issue.
The commission is still waiting on opinions from the Honolulu and Hawaii county advisory councils.
The current system — in which 51 representative districts spread across the islands each elect a single representative — has been in place since 1982, after a federal lawsuit found that multimember legislative districts were unconstitutional.
The attorney general’s legal opinion says commissioners can consider bringing back multimember districts without a constitutional amendment.
But the commission agreed to postpone public discussion of the attorney general’s legal advice until the panel deliberated in an executive session after today’s meeting.
June 15 is a target deadline for the commission to decide on apportionment of districts to the various island units, single-member versus multimember districts and the permanent population base.
Hawaii is one of seven states that appoint an independent commission to carry out congressional redistricting.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues