Possibly missed in all the hubbub this election season over a “ConCon” and a “ConAm” is an important question for voters regarding the agency that oversees Honolulu rail.

It would increase the number of Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board members to 15.

Fortunately, the answer to the question is simple: vote “yes.”

We will explain why in a moment, but first we offer some important context about the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The constitutional convention and constitutional amendment questions are statewide ballot questions, because both questions could lead to changing the Hawaii Constitution. That means both questions appear on everyone’s ballot.

The ConAm question doesn’t even matter now, after the Hawaii Supreme Court nullified it Oct. 19. It’s a long story.

A 2017 HART board meeting at Alii Place in downtown Honolulu. A charter amendment question on the ballot this Nov. 6 would alter its composition and voting requirements. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The question about the HART board is a charter amendment. While the state (like the federal government) is governed by a constitution, Hawaii’s four counties are each governed by charters. In addition to the ConCon, voters in each county this year are asked to vote on charter questions.

The good news for voters in the City and County of Honolulu is that in 2018 there is only one charter question — the HART board amendment. Just two years ago, Oahu voters faced no less than 20 questions, of which 16 ultimately passed.

One potential pitfall with the city charter question, though, is that it’s wordy and wonky. Here’s the gist of it.

Originally, there were nine voting members and one nonvoting member on the HART board. When the Hawaii Legislature passed legislation in the 2017 special session to bail out the behind-schedule, over-budget, $9 billion and counting rail project, it added four more non-voting members to give the state greater scrutiny over the city project.

But that meant the 14-member board needed eight of the nine voting members to vote “yes” for any board action to be approved. The HART board failed to meet that bar in January when one voting member was absent.

A screen shot of the back side of a sample 2018 general election ballot. 

The proposed city charter question, if passed on Nov. 6, would amend the charter so that it comports with what the Legislature did last fall — that is, add four non-voting members: two appointed by the Senate president, two by the House speaker. The amended charter would also allow the City Council to appoint one more voting member.

Most critically, the charter amendment would make clear that six of the 11 voting board members would constitute a quorum so that the board could do its business if a couple of members are absent. It would also require that only a majority of voting members are necessary for the board to take action. That means as few as six.

It sounds complicated but it really isn’t it. That’s why this particular charter question is considered housekeeping, meaning that it’s cleaning up a mess that has inadvertently gotten out of control.

There is one other potential pitfall with the charter question: It is printed on the flip side of the ballot, along with the ConCon and now defunct ConAm questions.

If voters only fill out the front side of the ballot — where the races for the U.S. Congress, Hawaii governor and lieutenant governor, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and (for the two districts that have them in the general election) and the City Council are located — they will have left the ConCon and the charter questions blank.

Do not do this.

Even if some voters leave the HART charter question blank, the good news is that — unlike with the ConCon question— “blank” votes don’t effectively count as “no” votes. A charter question requires only a plurality of votes to pass.

Now, we know what you are thinking: Do you really want to make it easier for HART to do its job?

That’s a good question.

We won’t use this column to delve into what we think about the aforementioned behind-schedule, over-budget $9-billion-and-counting rail project.

But we will say that the HART board is comprised of a lot of dedicated volunteers appointed by elected officials that voters must hold accountable. And the board needs all the help it can get.

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