There will be no change in how many seats each island will get in the Legislature heading into the 2022 election season based on a plan that the state Reapportionment Commission adopted unanimously Thursday.
The commission has received some public pushback in recent meetings on how it arrived at its population figures for each island. By some estimates, the Big Island should have received a House seat based on population changes over the last decade.
In 2012, when the commission last took up the task of redrawing Hawaii’s political boundaries, Oahu lost a Senate seat while Hawaii island gained one.
As part of the commission’s plan approved Thursday, 71,665 non-resident military and college students will be removed from the total count of Hawaii’s voting population. The state constitution requires non-permanent residents to be removed from reapportionment counts distributed by the U.S. Census.
But the number removed this year is less than the more than 108,000 military and students the commission removed in 2012, when the Hawaii Supreme Court ordered a redo of the plans after finding that the commission didn’t comply with the constitution.
In particular, the number of military removed from the permanent resident count was 32.5% less than what was removed after the 2010 census. David Rosenbrok, the reapportionment project manager, said that the number of military that should be removed this year was determined based on data provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
But some public testifiers urged the commission to consider other sources of data like population estimates from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Bart Dame, a national committeeman for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, estimates that using a higher extraction number could mean that the Big Island would gain a House seat while Oahu would lose one. If that were to happen, it would mean a pair of Oahu representatives would likely need to face off in an election next year.
Some worry that the commission is not following a two-step process for island apportionment determined by the state Supreme Court in 2012. In the first step, commissioners determine the number of voting-eligible residents on each island.
In the second step, those estimates are then used to redraw political lines.
Dame and others say that starting with the data provided by the military skips the first step and doesn’t comply with the state Supreme Court’s order. Dame estimates that, based on past plans, the commission could be overlooking some 30,000 non-resident military that should be excluded from the count.
In the chart below, “Extraction A” shows the commission’s estimates compared to Dames’, “Extraction B.”
“If you approve a plan that overlooks that many obviously present, non-permanent residents, then I think you’re in danger of … not complying and facing a lawsuit,” Dame said.
After about an hour of public testimony, the commission withdrew into a closed-door session for around 40 minutes to meet with state attorneys.
Afterward, commission chairman Mark Mugiishi, CEO of the Hawaii Medical Services Association, said that, in the state Attorney General’s opinion, the commission is complying with the 2012 court order.
Rosenbrock said that the process the commission followed in asking the military for data on non-residents stationed in Hawaii is the same process it followed in 2011 and 2001.
“We can disagree with it, criticize it, whatever we want. But it’s as exact as it’s going to get,” commissioner Dylan Nonaka said.
The commission also adopted guidelines on how to draw political boundaries going forward. It will generally require that two House districts be in every Senate district, and that no political districts should cross mountain ranges.
At its next meeting, the commission will decide whether parts of Barber’s Point, Koolina and Honokai Hale should be part of the second congressional district, which includes neighbor islands and suburban Oahu, instead of the first which comprises Oahu’s urban core.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell