There are more people living in Hawaii than will be represented in the proposed reapportionment plan for State senate and house elections. The April 1, 2010 US Census is the most reliable estimate of everyone living in Hawaii on that date, yet the current reapportionment plan excludes many people who live here. And some districts have many more residents than others. It’s time for a “reality check.”

The April 2010 U.S. Population Census found there were 1,360,301 people living in Hawaii. Estimates from this year’s State reapportionment showed 108,767 people were “extracted” from this resident count for reapportionment purposes. So there are many more people living in Hawaii than there are people represented in our reapportionment plan, and Hawaii is the only state that does this on such a large scale. Kansas extracted one-half of one percent of its population while we extracted eight percent of ours.

The residents of Hawaii “extracted” from our apportionment base weren’t assigned to a district anywhere in the United States for purposes of representation at the State level, because all other states rely on the census count to determine representation and these 108,000 residents of Hawaii aren’t included in the census count for any state except Hawaii. This isn’t fair to these citizens. It isn’t just. It isn’t right. All residents of Hawaii should be included in the reapportionment plan.

A related problem has to do with the fact that those “extracted” from the reapportionment plan are not evenly distributed throughout our State, which results in unequal representation in government. The “equal protection” clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees every resident of the United States federal congressional representation as well as state representation.

Equal protection is already guaranteed for Federal House districts because those districts use total census population as an apportionment base. But similar protection is not afforded for Hawaii legislative seats because of the apportionment base we persist in using.

“One person, one vote” means legislative districts need to be divided according to population, so that each person (and each interest) has an equal representation in government. Using Hawaii’s 2010 total census population the following chart shows two examples of representation that is not equal:

Population of proposed legislative districts, Oahu, 2012

House District 23 House District 50
1,835 extracted 9,246 extracted
27,871 permanent residents 30,943 permanent residents
29,706 Total 40,189 Total
Senate District 24 Senate District 8
10,958 extracted 286 extracted
51,259 permanent residents 47,053 permanent residents
62,217 Total 47,339 Total

Source: Hawaii Reapportionment Commission

Proposed House District 23 has fewer than 20,000 residents, while House District 50 has more than 40,000 residents. Senate District 24 has 62,000 residents while Senate District 8 has only 47,000 residents.

State political districts of unequal size have been held in federal Supreme Court rulings to under-represent some citizens’ interests and over-represent others, and I believe this is what happened here. Districts should be drawn so that each has approximately equal population.

We should get the apportionment base correct so that all people are equally represented in our legislature and so it is clear to our legislators that they have a mandate to serve all people who live in their districts.

This issue has been plaguing us for at least six months. Last June the Reapportionment Commission voted 8-1 to include a much larger number of people in redistricting calculations.

Then on January 4 our State Supreme Court overturned the September 26 draft plan saying the plan must exclude more people. Of course, this is because this Court relied solely on our State Constitution for an explanation of their order to overturn the September plan. Many like me who respect the State Constitution are now calling Section 4 of Article IV into question.

There has already been sufficient publicity about what hinges politically on how many nonpermanent residents are excluded from the total current population count. Less talk about which counties would gain or lose state Senate seats and more talk about what constitutes equal representation is called for at this point. In particular members of our military and their families are excluded in the new State reapportionment plan. Some 47,000 active duty personnel and nearly 59,000 active duty dependents were living in Hawaii in April 2010. These people do count!

Some would also argue that it is too late in the 2012 State elections cycle to take up this question. This situation does place enormous time pressure on the State Office of Elections, but because of mapping technology it is now relatively straightforward to prepare new State House and Senate legislative boundaries. In fact, the September 2011 version of the reapportionment plan is very close to what would be required if the total population census count is adopted as the apportionment base. How can we skip getting the apportionment base correct?

Let’s do what’s right and let’s do what’s good for all the people of Hawaii.

About the author: Janet Mason has worked as an executive in both the business and nonprofit sectors, and has lived in Hawaii for more than 35 years. She is active in community affairs.