The City Council Reapportionment Commission draws the boundaries of Honolulu’s nine districts after each 10-year census based on changes in population numbers.

But even though City Council offices have been nonpartisan for nearly 20 years, a Honolulu charter provision says that no more than five of the nine members of the reapportionment commission may come from the same political party.

That will change if voters approve Charter Amendment 19.

To Lynne Matusow, a downtown resident and community activist, the change can’t come soon enough.

In her testimony to the Honolulu Charter Commission calling for repeal of the requirement, she referred to it as “a vestige of another age,” and one that should be changed to “conform to reality.”

District boundaries for the City and County of Honolulu.
Current Honolulu City Council district boundaries. City and County of Honolulu

The last time reapportionment happened was in 2011.

Matusow recalled that it was discovered at the time that five of the proposed members already belonged to the same party, and so an additional member had to resign his party membership.

“The commission also had to verify, with the parties, whether its members were members of a particular party,” Matusow said in her testimony in February. “That information is confidential.”

Charter Commission member Paul Oshiro, who served in the House of Representatives from 1984 to 1999, agreed that a change was needed, and so he submitted a proposed charter amendment.

It is now Charter Amendment 19 on the ballot of Oahu voters.

It reads as follows:

Should the requirement be repealed that no more than five of the City Council Reapportionment Commission’s nine members be from the same political party?

If it passes, appointments to the reapportionment commission would be made without limits based on party affiliation.

But there is opposition.

Common Cause Hawaii, a nonpartisan, grassroots group dedicated to protecting and improving the political process, warns that eliminating the party cap would make it easier “to manipulate” City Council elections because it “removes a safeguard that helps to ensure fairness.”

Executive Director Corie Tanida said in a press release last month, “While the races are nonpartisan, the candidates are not and their affiliations with parties are well known. If this proposal passes, the foxes will guard the henhouse and one party could use its power to turn City Council redistricting into one more partisan political battleground instead of ensuring fair representation for our communities.”

Potentially, all nine members of the reapportionment commission could come from the same party and possibly draw district boundaries to favor their candidates.

“Voters should select their lawmakers, not the other way around,” she said.

Hawaii politics have been dominated by the Democratic Party for half a century.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

A conservative faction of the state Republican Party also opposed charter amendment No. 19, and for the same reason: a fear of gerrymandering.

“In theory, this could result in a single party commission,” the Hawaii Republican Assembly states in its 2016 voter guide.

There are 20 charter amendment questions in total for City and County of Honolulu voters.

A “yes” vote means a voter is in favor of the amendment and the County Charter will be changed as proposed. A “no” vote means a voter is against the amendment and the charter will not be changed.

Blank votes are not counted, and a simple majority of votes will cause the amendment to pass or fail.

Click here to learn more about the 20 ballot questions.

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