Every 10 years the election map is redrawn to make sure each voting district remains largely the same size throughout the state. For example, neighbor island populations have been growing much faster than Oahu’s and more seats have been allocated away from Oahu and to Maui and the Big Island.

The redrafting of districts every 10 years, however, invites the curse of “gerrymandering,” where maps are drawn to suit one political party over another. Take, for example, Portlock, which is combined with Waimanalo so the Senate District 3 seat leans Democrat rather than Republican.

There is, however, a bigger problem on the horizon than gerrymandering — it is the total absence of balance on the redistricting commission to prevent excessive gerrymandering.

Oahu’s House of Representatives districts. Lawmakers will be require new maps after the 2020 census. 

Regarding the reapportionment commission, Article IV, Section 2 of the Hawaii State Constitution states, “The president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives shall each select two members. Members of each house belonging to the party or parties different from that of the president or the speaker shall designate one of their number for each house and the two so designated shall each select two members of the commission.”

This assures that four members of the commission be appointed by the majority party in the House and Senate and four be appointed by the minority party. The eight appointees then select a ninth member to serve as chairperson.

As can be seen, redrawing the map is by law a bipartisan mandate. However, with the defeat of Sen. Sam Slom in the 2016 election, Republicans have no one in the Senate to appoint members to the reapportionment commission.

As it stands, the likely result is a reapportionment commission that would consist of six members selected by Democrats and two by Republicans. The chairperson would be chosen by Democrats, making it a 7-2 advantage of Democrats over Republicans. Not much bipartisanship there, and the maps will decimate Republican-leaning districts.

This should be cause for great concern because Hawaii is already on the road to becoming a one-party state even without unfairly drawn electoral maps.

House Bills 2446 and 2707 were introduced in the 2018 legislative session to assure a bipartisan reapportionment commission and avert the race to one-party rule. They specifically would have required that in the absence of a minority member in, say, the Senate, a minority member of the House be appointed to choose members to a reapportionment commission. This way the upcoming reapportionment commission becomes bipartisan, but the bills were never heard in the House Judicial Committee and are now dead.

There is only one conclusion to this: Democrats in power will soon have no roadblocks to establishing a supermajority one-party state in Hawaii. Let’s not close our eyes to this as democracy is being pushed off a cliff and we’re all going to be hurt when it falls.

(Gene Ward is one of five Republicans in the state House of Representatives, which has 51 members. There are 25 state senators. All are Democrats.)

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