As promised, Big Island Sen. Malama Solomon and three other Democrats have sued the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission over the panel’s decision to count most non-resident military and out-of-state college students when drawing new political districts for the state.

The lawsuit claims the move is unconstitutional and has cost the Big Island an additional Senate seat it would otherwise gain due to population growth.

Hilo attorney Stanley Roehrig, a former state legislator, said he filed the lawsuit electronically Monday in Supreme Court. (A copy of the suit is embedded below.)

In addition to Solomon, the suit was filed on behalf of Patricia Cook, Louis Hao and Steven Pavao, members of the Hawaii County Committee of the state Democratic Party.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the Office of Elections, Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago and the Reapportionment Commission’s nine members, are named as respondents.

“We recognized that because the population on the Big Island grew by about 25 percent in 10 years, and Oahu’s population only grew by .8 percent in the same time period, that there was a strong likelihood we’d get more representation in the state Legislature just based on the Census numbers,” Roehrig said. “As the commission began doing their job, it became obvious that we had a fight on our hands.”

The suit asks the court to find the commission’s plan invalid and to have the Senate boundaries redrawn.

Roehrig says the state Constitution mandates that reapportionment be based on the total number of “permanent residents” — wording that was changed from “registered voters” by a 1992 constitutional amendment. While there is no definition of who qualifies as permanent, Roehrig says committee reports tied to the 1992 amendment “expressly state” that the intent was to exclude all non-resident military, their dependents and students.

The commission, which started its work back in May, had voted 8-1 to count non-resident military personnel and their families as well as sentenced felons and college students as part of political district populations. That decision maintained the number of Senate seats allotted to each island unit.

Solomon and other Big Island residents had testified several times against the inclusion of these groups at commission meetings, threatening legal action.

The commission later reversed that decision with a 5-3 vote that approved excluding about 16,500 active-duty military and out-of-state college students from the population base. But that move did not change the base enough to shift an additional Senate seat to the Big Island.

“We decided we have to do something, this is not fair, we’re not getting one man, one vote,” Roehrig told Civil Beat. “We’re just as patriotic as everyone … This is not about patriotism, this is about one man, one vote.”

In July, the state’s attorney general’s office said a court would likely overturn a decision to include military and students in the population.

“It appears that the Hawaii Supreme Court would likely hold that to the extent they are identifiable, non-resident college students and non-resident military members and their families cannot properly be included in the reapportionment population base the (Reapportionment) Commission uses to draw the legislative district lines this year,” Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina wrote in a letter obtained by Civil Beat.

The opinion, provided to Big Island Rep. Bob Herkes after he asked for legal advice, was also signed by Hawaii Attorney General David Louie.

Here’s a copy of the lawsuit:

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