BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – 15,000 – that is the number of non resident members of the United States military who are not represented in any state anywhere in the country in state elections.
That is a point of contention among the 9-member State Reapportionment Commission, which is charged with redrawing state lines for Hawaii’s 51 House districts, 25 Senate districts and 2 congressional districts based the U.S. Census 2010 population count in time for the 2012 primary and general elections.
It also is the subject of a lawsuit filed in October by Big Island Democrats, Sen. Malama Solomon, Hawaii County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Pavao and party committee members Louis Hao and Patti Cook, who want even more non resident military members and their dependents removed from Hawaii’s population count so they can gain a fourth Senate seat.
They note that the Big Island had a population that grew 24.5 percent in 10 years, more than the state’s other four counties, but when including Hawaii’s non resident military in the total population count, they said they were prevented them from being fairly represented in the Senate.
(The state population grew to nearly 1.4 million residents, an increase of 12 percent, according to Ballotpedia.org)
The commission, which first met in May 2011 with a plan to wrap up by September 26, based its first draft of the 2012 redistricted map on U.S. Census data. At the time, the commissioners had no information from the Department of Defense as to where non resident military families were living. The commission voted 8-1 to include all non resident military as the federal government does and as is the practice in 48 other states (Kansas has certain limitations on the counting of military).
However, Big Island lawmakers and island Democratic party members promised swift action against the commission if they didn’t remove all 70,000 non resident military and their families from the plan. Maui Republicans also took issue with what was seen as a plan that benefitted Oahu politicians.
The issue is important because in 1992, the voters of Hawaii approved a state constitutional amendment excluding certain military personnel when counting for reapportionment purposes only. The specific issue is the definition of “permanent residence.”
Commissioners met behind closed doors before taking another vote in September, which ended in a 5-3 decision to compromise and remove a portion of the non resident military, or 15,000 people.
Two lawsuits followed in October, with the second lawsuit filed by Kona attorney Michael Matsukawa.
The cases are pending in the Hawaii Supreme Court. Justices could hear oral arguments or simply rule on filings alone. A spokeswoman for the Judiciary said the Supreme Court’s deliberations and timeline are confidential.
Complicating matters, the commission’s chair, retired Judge Victoria Marks, was appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court when the commission’s 8 appointed members could not agree on a chair, and with 21 years of judicial experience, she wrote the response brief herself; and Democrat Governor Neil Abercrombie, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit with the commissioners, is siding with Big Island Democrats.
“The governor respectfully requests that this court compel the 2011 Reapportionment Commission to do everything necessary, including recreating ‘permanent resident’ population bases for the four basic island units, to correct the 2011 Reapportionment Plan it filed with the Chief Elections Officer, and assure that it complies with article IV, section 4 of the State Constitution,” said Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina in a state brief.
State Reapportionment Advisory Commission Chair for Oahu, Mike Palcic, said he is disappointed at how the commission has handled the redistricting issue. His advisory commission had voted unanimously in favor of including all non resident military in the count. Other observers felt it is disrespectful not to include the military and their families as is the federal government’s practice.
Meanwhile, Hawaii’s primary elections have been moved up from the third week in September to an August 11 primary because of a challenge by the federal government that said the state did not allow enough time for resident military overseas to have their votes counted in time for the election.
A separate city reapportionment commission redrew the lines for the City & County of Honolulu’s 9 council districts and included all of Oahu’s population including non residential military without incident, according to a spokesperson for the city clerk’s office.
To see the proposal, log on to the commission’s web site at https://hawaii.gov/elections/reapportionment and see more at https://www.ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Redistricting_in_Hawaii