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Who Killed the Clean Elections Bill and Why? (Laure Dillon)
President's Message (Pearl Johnson)
Welcome New Members
Honolulu League: Annual Meeting (Grace Furukawa)
At the Legislature (Jean Aoki)
Senate Seat Challengers Short-changed in 2002 Elections (Jean Aoki)

Senate Seat Challengers Short-changed in 2002 Elections

A provision in our State Constitution, overlooked by all of us until attention was call to it by Senator Les Ihara recently, puts challengers for Senate seats in 2002 elections at a gross disadvantage.

Because of redistricting following the census every ten years, some of the senators may find their districts gone, and until 1992, they could have found themselves serving the second half of their four year terms in a completely new district. In 1992, then Senator Russell Blair found himself representing residents of another island.

To correct this, the 1992 Legislature proposed an amendment to the constitution. This amendment was ratified by the voters in 1992.

The Problem with the 1992 constitutional amendment

Section 8 of Article IV Reapportionment reads:

"Staggered Terms for the Senate. Any re-elected senator whose prior term was shortened to two years by the occurrence of the reapportionment, shall be assigned to serve a four year term. Any new senator and re-elected senator whose prior term was not shortened by the occurrence of the reapportionment year shall, after reapportionment, be assigned to serve a two year term.

If the number of senators assigned to serve a two year term under the previous para graph exceeds twelve, the number of such senators shall be reduced to twelve by random selection as provided by law."

The offending phrase is "Any new senator" in the second sentence of the first paragraph. All new senators will have 2 year terms, even challengers who win over senators who would have been entitled to 4 year terms if they had won.

Clearly, this provision is discriminatory toward challengers. Voters in a given district may be faced with the dilemma of either voting for the incumbent to four year term, or choosing a challenger for a 2 year term. Wouldn't this give an additional edge to the incumbent?

How Could This Happen?

The question on the ballot in 1992 read:

"Shall the holdover senator provision be repealed so that the terms of all senators will end at the general election at which a new reapportionment plan becomes effective and the assignment of staggered terms is recomputed as of that general election?"

It gave no indication of the actual wording of the proposed Section 8. Nor did the 'Fact Sheet' that was published to help voters understand the amendment.

According to Senator Les Ihara, "There was no hint that anyone was aware of the unequal Senate term problem when the 1992 amendment was being considered because there was no mention in testimony, committee reports, floor speeches, or media reports."

Correcting the Error

Although Senator Les Ihara did try to get the Legislature to propose an amendment to the constitution so that successful challengers would be entitled to the same term as the incumbent senators, his attempt came too late in the legislative session.

Community action is needed to force a special session to propose an amendment to the constitution to correct this inequity. There isn't too much time because the amendment must be on the ballot for the 2000 elections and ratified in time for the post-reapportionment elections of 2002. The Good Government Coalition is making arrangements to alert the neighborhood boards and other groups about the problem and to solicit their support.

League members will be contacted via e-mail or phone asking for your help getting our request to our legislators. Elections are the foundation of a democracy and only fair and honest elections give legitimacy to any governing body.

Jean Aoki
Legislative Chair, LWV Hawaii

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