A state panel tasked with redrawing Hawaii political boundaries still doesn’t know if it has the right population figures to correctly reapportion legislative districts in Hawaii.

That’s because the U.S. military sent the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission inconsistent data sets on the number of non-resident military personnel and their dependents residing in the state.

The state constitution and a 2012 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling require non-permanent residents, like some military personnel and college students, to be excluded from counts used to draw lines for the 76 seats in the Legislature among the four counties.

The commission was set to finalize its redistricting plan in early January, but now that timeline has been thrown up in the air while the commission waits for new data from the military. A new data set was supposed to be sent to the state on Tuesday, but commission staff say they never received it.

Schofield Barracks Foote Gate.
Data on how many non-permanent resident military personnel and their dependents live in Hawaii may hold up state redistricting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Mark Mugiishi, CEO of the Hawaii Medical Service Association and chairman of the commission, said the commission can’t finalize its plans without accurate data from the military. In the meantime, Mugiishi said the commission will continue its work on a controversial redistricting plan that has drawn fire from Hawaii residents since the process started earlier this year.

Three dozen people attended Wednesday’s meeting to voice more concerns with new proposed plans from the commission.

‘We’re not going to finalize a plan until we have a confirmation of a final answer, but we’re also not going to stop,” Mugiishi said of the military data.

Mugiishi indicated that the commission still plans to wrap up its work by Feb. 27, a deadline set by the Hawaii Supreme Court. If new data from the military prompts any changes to legislative districts, those would need to be done “in flight,” Mugiishi said.

The commission will meet again on Jan. 3 to reevaluate its redistricting proposals and any data it gets from the military.

In August, the commission subtracted about 65,000 military personnel and dependents from Hawaii’s population to start the redistricting process. That’s far less than the 108,000 non-residents that were subtracted from the population number in the last reapportionment process a decade ago.

That apparently raised concerns with commission staff, who tried to get better data from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. “INDOPACOM told the commission that was the best information available,” Royce Jones, a consultant for the commission, said during a presentation Thursday.

After public pressure in September, Jones and the commission staff circled back with the military and again requested data on the residence status of military personnel.

Specifically, the commission asked how many personnel and their dependents claimed addresses outside of the state in the latest U.S. census. In November, INDOPACOM responded with a new data set showing that tens of thousands more should have been subtracted from the population count.

Jones said the staff asked the military to reconcile those two data sets, but did not get a response in time for Wednesday’s meeting.

The state has been trying to wrangle accurate data from the military since late 2019, according to Jones.

Robin Kennedy, a commissioner who helped to secure the second data set from INDOPACOM, said that the delay has partly to do with the military’s process for compiling the data.

INDOPACOM has to make its own request to the Defense Manpower Data Center, which then needs to query its own data sets and other agencies to get the numbers Hawaii is looking for.

Correcting the number of non-permanent residents could have political consequences for Hawaii.

If about 30,000 more military are subtracted from the overall population, Oahu could lose a House seat while the Big Island would gain one.

“This is not the first time we’ve dealt with this issue,” Jones said. “It’s been ongoing. We want to get the right number. Is 95,000 the right number? 60,000? 30,000? We aren’t trying to get a certain number. We are trying to get the right number.”

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