The Hawaii Reapportionment Commission on Friday approved new maps of redrawn legislative districts that decide which communities elected officials will represent for the next decade.
The decision to move forward with the final proposed maps ends a monthslong process fraught with accusations of gerrymandering and political favoritism. But residents still have concerns that the maps don’t meet certain constitutional requirements.
Public testifiers from Oahu and the Big Island warned the commission that residents may sue to overturn the maps. That’s what happened in 2012 in a case that forced the commission to redraw district lines.
“You’re guaranteeing a legal challenge,” Kaimuki resident and former political candidate Becky Gardner told the commission.
Residents of areas most affected by redistricting also have called for various revisions to the maps throughout the process. Some of the strongest voices have been from Kailua and Waimanalo residents who opposed plans to expand their House district to include Portlock.
While the final House maps remove Portlock from that district, it’s still included in the accompanying Senate District.
Sandy Ma, director of Common Cause Hawaii, worried that Hawaiian voters could be disenfranchised as new House maps split the Hawaiian homestead community in Papakolea. In Kapolei, the Maluohai homestead subdivision would also be split between two House districts.
West Hawaii island residents also raised concerns that new legislative lines breaks off Waikoloa from a House district that covers areas of Kona and places the community in a district that comprises Kohala.
Along the way, the commission has had to grapple with inconsistencies in data from the military, which nearly derailed the reapportionment process. Updated data on the number of nonresident military personnel was enough to sway the balance of seats in the House, with one Oahu seat being eliminated and Hawaii island gaining one.
For months, that was the biggest outstanding issue, but there are others yet to be settled.
Bill Hicks, a Kailua resident who has led the public charge on suggesting new Oahu maps to the commission, said the commission’s final proposal still does not meet all the criteria set forth in the state constitution, which among other things says that House districts should be wholly included in Senate districts where practicable.
Hicks has said that should be possible this year since Oahu, Maui County and Hawaii County each have an even number of House districts and an even number of Senate districts. However, the commission has declined to take up his proposals.
“Flagrantly ignoring constitutional requirements is an open invitation for a lawsuit,” Hicks said in an interview.
Mark Mugiishi, chairman of the commission, was pleased with the group’s work and denied that the commission’s decisions were influenced by party politics in the state.
“I do believe the principle of the democratic process is a fair and well-run election,” Mugiishi said. To that end, he urged commissioners to pass the final maps so the the state Office of Elections can begin the process of sorting voters into new legislative districts in time for candidate filing, which begins March 1.
Commissioner Robin Kennedy was the lone “no” vote on Friday. She asked that other maps proposed by Hicks and other residents be considered, but the other commissioners didn’t take up her request.
“I feel the community still doesn’t have the answers it needs,” she said.
Meanwhile, political fallout from the redistricting process is expected to continue.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell