Hawaii redistricting bound by islands, commission
HONOLULU — Island geography, a politically balanced commission and dominance in all politics by Democrats means redistricting and reapportionment issues are different in Hawaii than in other U.S. states.
The islands haven’t seen significant impacts from gerrymandering in a state that voted 70 percent for President Barack Obama in 2012 and has had only three Republicans among 21 federal lawmakers since statehood.
Hawaii has two U.S. House districts to go along with its two senators.
The reapportionment and redistricting process is done every 10 years, governed by a commission created by the state constitution.
The state’s latest plan in 2011 had to be redone after the state Supreme Court ordered that temporary residents — military members and college students — be excluded from the population base. The shift sent one state House seat from Oahu to the Big Island and was upheld through a challenge that again reached the Hawaii Supreme Court, which ruled without comment in January this year.
“They did not want to run afoul of the one man, one vote rule,” said David Rosenbrock, a state Office of Elections official who was the project manager for the Reapportionment Commission for 2001 and 2011.
Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill that would use U.S. census data to determine the state’s population.
The commission’s governance is specific, with nearly 1,400 words in the state charter devoted to how it runs.
It’s a bit complex, but here’s how it works:
The Senate president and the House speaker each select two members.
Next, members of each legislative chamber in the parties opposite the Senate and House leaders pick one person to designate two more members each.
That gets the commission to eight.
The eight members then collectively vote on the ninth, who becomes the chairman or chairwoman with six votes.
“There’s always politics because you have four Republicans and four Democrats,” Rosenbrock said. “There wasn’t so much political wrangling as just getting the population correct” during the last cycle, he said.
The commission also has an advisory group made up of people who live on each island. State Senate and House districts are generally bound by each island’s borders, except in certain cases where smaller islands don’t have enough people to fill out a district.
Rosenbrock said that’s helped by a law that allows districts to be drawn based on populations on each island, rather than the state population, the majority of which is centered in Honolulu.
“The fewer people you dispossess out of their voting district, the better everyone is,” he said.