Our Democracy Starts With Redistricting - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Sandy Ma

Sandy Ma is executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a nonpartisan democracy organization focused on creating an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest and not special interests. Common Cause Hawaii is dedicated to holding power accountable.


Something major is happening in Hawaii and across the nation right now — reapportionment and redistricting. Reapportionment and redistricting only happen once every 10 years, and it impacts our future for the next decade — everything from who will run for office, if we will be able to elect representatives of our choice, to fair funding for schools, hospitals, roads and more that affect our communities.

Reapportionment is the process of dividing the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states based on the changes in population recorded by the U.S. Census.

Based on the 2020 census apportionment count, Hawaii will maintain its two House seats. With population gains noted by the census, Texas will gain two more House seats, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one.

Based on population declines, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia each lost one House seat. With the 2022 congressional midterm elections right around the corner, the reapportionment will have a major impact on which party — Democrat or Republican — controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

But there is still more!

Redistricting is the next step after reapportionment. Once we know how many representatives we have in the House, we need to draw new lines — in other words, revise geographic boundary areas — for electing individuals to Congress, the Legislature and county councils.

This redistricting is happening now. The reason district lines must be redrawn every decade is because the U.S. Constitution requires that political districts of the same type (congressional, state house, state senate, etc.) have the same number of people. With people relocating, each elected official should represent the same number of people.

The Hawaii State Reapportionment Commission is meeting to determine new boundaries for Hawaii’s two federal House seats and every seat (76 of them) in the Legislature.

The 2021 Honolulu Reapportionment Commission is meeting to draw new boundaries for the nine Honolulu City Council districts.

The Hawaii County Redistricting Commission is meeting to draw new boundaries for Hawaii island’s nine districts as well.

Once these new boundaries are drawn, both of Hawaii’s congressional representatives, every Hawaii state legislator, every Honolulu council member and every Hawaii County council member will have to stand for election in 2022.

As we have seen with a practice known as gerrymandering, especially on the continent, lines may be drawn to favor a specific political party, ensuring that a candidate from a political party will easily be elected.

Lines may be drawn to dilute the votes of specific communities, taking away a group’s voting power. Redistricting can result in a population being split and not having political voice for the next 10 years.

The way district maps are drawn can determine whether a group of people has the ability to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of elections. This is why redistricting is so incredibly powerful and having fairly drawn lines is vitally important.

There is some guidance in Hawaii to prevent gerrymandering. Our state constitution provides that redistricting is to be guided by factors including:

  • No district shall be drawn to unduly favor a person or political faction;
  • Districts shall be contiguous;
  • Districts shall be compact;
  • Where possible, districts should follow permanent and easily recognizable geographical features, e.g., streets and streams;
  • Where practicable, districts should follow census tract boundaries.

Additionally, section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act may require that a majority-minority district be drawn under specific circumstances.

Common Cause compiled maps showing Native Hawaiian-only populations overlaid with current state House and Senate district boundaries. (The Native Hawaiian-only population was not extracted from the 2020 census data, as it was not disaggregated to this level, but taken from the American Community Survey. To be clear, the maps are not being used to show that the boundaries drawn and used since 2012 are suspect or fail to comport with the law.)

The Common Cause map showing Native Hawaiian-only populations overlaid with state Senate district boundaries. 

Redistricting determines political power for the next decade — by redrawing the lines, a voter’s power may be altered. With this in mind, do you think the maps could be better drawn now for the Native Hawaiian community?

Our population has changed with the 2020 Census. Make your voice heard. Advocate for your community to ensure that your political voice is heard and your community is fairly represented for the next 10 years. Now is the time to influence redistricting. The State Reapportionment Commission, the 2021 Honolulu Reapportionment Commission and the Hawaii County Redistricting Commission are all meeting now.

We, the people, can ensure that these maps are drawn to represent our community, culture and concerns. We can ensure that it is not only political considerations that are at play in the redistricting process. This is our democracy. It starts with redistricting. It starts with us, our voice.

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Read this next:

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About the Author

Sandy Ma

Sandy Ma is executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a nonpartisan democracy organization focused on creating an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest and not special interests. Common Cause Hawaii is dedicated to holding power accountable.


Latest Comments (0)

Mahalo for this excellent and important analysis, Sandy.  A vibrant democracy demands participation. There has been manipulation of the maps in the past and with no community participation we cannot be assured that the maps will be drawn sans political manipulation. Exercise your democratic muscle! 

Kat · 1 week ago

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