Hawaii County will get an additional seat in the state House of Representatives and Oahu will lose one after a commission tasked with revising legislative boundaries decided it needs to go back to the drawing board.

The Hawaii Reapportionment Commission on Thursday unanimously voted to restart its process of drawing boundaries for the 76 seats in the Legislature after receiving data from the U.S. military that indicated it did not properly remove nonpermanent resident personnel from population counts used to conduct redistricting.

The commission was sued by a group of citizens in 2011 for a similar issue, which ultimately resulted in one Hawaii Senate district moving from Oahu to the Big Island.

The commission is required by the Hawaii Constitution and a 2012 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling to remove nonpermanent resident military personnel, their dependents and out-of-state college students.

“It’s a very imperfect process,” Mark Mugiishi, chairman of the commission, said.

The Big Island will gain a House seat after the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission decided to draft new legislative maps based on updated data from the military. Screenshot: Hawaii Reapportionment Commission/2021

In September, the commission extracted 65,000 military and dependents. On Thursday, however, the commission decided to remove closer to 100,000 personnel and dependents based on data received from the military last Friday.

The decision came after months of public testimony urging the commission to reevaluate the population numbers and several staff reports telling the commission that the most recent data set was also the most accurate.

Deciding to go with a different population base means the commission must redo legislative maps for each island, a process expected to take about a month.

A sub-group of commissioners called the Technical Committee will now meet in private to draft new maps. Those drafts are expected to be completed next week, according to Mugiishi.

In the coming weeks Mugiishi said the public will get a chance to weigh in on the draft maps or create their own.

Hawaii elections chief Scott Nago has warned that process should be completed by the end of January to give elections staff enough time to update voter rolls by March 1, the day candidates can begin filing for 2022 races.

The Hawaii Supreme Court gave the commission until Feb. 27 to complete the process.

Extracting Military

The majority of Hawaii’s military population lives on Oahu, Royce Jones, a contractor helping the state do redistricting, said during a presentation to the commission.

Removing 99,967 nonpermanent resident military personnel and their dependents from Hawaii’s census population of about 1.4 million means Oahu will lose a seat in the House, lowering its total to 34, while the Big Island will gain another, bringing its total number of seats in the House to eight.

The commission was hesitant to move forward with new plans to redraw legislative boundaries on Monday and wanted Jones and the staff to do more research on the accuracy of data from the military.

During his presentation, Jones showed an excerpt of an email from military data personnel saying that prior reports telling the commission to use a lower extraction number of 65,000 should not be used.

“These are the numbers we trust the most to meet what we need,” Jones said.

But the greater extraction numbers created problems for Jones, particularly in the area surrounding Schofield Barracks.

He ran out of nonresident military to extract on base and had to move to census blocks off base to meet a target extraction of about 18,000 personnel and their dependents. That meant pulling about 3,000 individuals from population counts in blocks in the surrounding area.

Schofield Barracks Reapportionment Census Block Extraction
A slide from Royce Jones’ presentation shows the areas of Schofield Barracks where nonresident military had to be extracted for redistricting. Screenshot: Hawaii Reapportionment Commission/2021

Jones chalked up the discrepancy to thousands of addresses attributed to an on-base post office. Still, Jones said this is the best data the commission will get.

“I’m confident the way we’ve done it is the best way to get it as accurate as we can given the data we have,” he said.

But there are some lingering issues from past reapportionment commissions.

For example, were some people included in the 99,000 extracted from military installations that did not take the census in Hawaii?

That’s a question Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz wanted answers to during a hearing Thursday morning. He worried there could be an overextraction of people from Hawaii’s population base. Nago said there was no way for the military to know who took the census and who didn’t.

“I just don’t think it’s fair we are just taking the military’s number and the university’s number and not verifying if people took the census or not,” Dela Cruz said.

Nago said the commission plans to come forward with a bill this year to help fix that issue, but he didn’t provide any details Thursday.

Sumner La Croix, a research fellow at the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, was concerned that more military and college students should be extracted than the commission realizes.

La Croix said an average of 4,000 college students who reside in Hawaii leave for school on the mainland. The commission’s current extraction also may not take into account the number of Hawaii residents who are in the military but are not stationed in Hawaii.

“Leaving them out gives a one sided adjustment,” he told the commission.

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