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Con Con

The Hawaii State Supreme Court has ruled for the plaintiffs in the suit challenging the announced result of the November vote on the Con Con question. It overturned the state's decision that the proponents of a constitutional convention had prevailed.

Needless to say, we are relieved that there will be no convention, especially not in 1998.

As the Legislature prepared enabling legislation for the constitutional convention, we testified urging that the election of delegates to the convention be scheduled for the November elections of 1998 rather than holding a special election in early 1998 as urged by proponents of a convention which would have required the holding of the convention no later than June of 1998. We opposed the rushing of the convention because, among other things, it would have provided little time for the public to acquire the necessary information on the candidates, especially their stands on some of the more important issues.

The Court's Decision

There is the separate issue of the soundness of the court's decision which challenged the Attorney General's interpretation. The provision in the constitution on the voting requirement reads, "If a majority of the ballots cast upon such a question be in the affirmative, delegates to the convention shall be chosen at the next regular election unless the Legislature shall provide for the election of delegates at a special election.

According to an article in the Star Bulletin, the court focused on the phrase "ballots cast", whereas the Attorney General considered the phrase "ballots cast upon such a question, " exactly as we had always done. We were also persuaded by the provision for the ratification of amendments to the constitution, which reads, "The revision or amendments shall be effective only if approved at a general election by a majority of all the votes tallied upon the question, this majority constituting at least fifty per cent of the total vote cast at the election "

Why didn't the framers insert the same qualifying clause for the voting requirement on the question if that was their intent? The words votes and ballots seem to be used interchangeably, because in the provision for ratifying amendment, "... 50% of the total vote cast at the election...", the word vote really means ballots cast in the election. Both passages need to be amended for clarity.

League Position

In amending the constitution to make sure the wording leaves no question as to the provision's intent, we do not necessarily have to follow the court's interpretation. The citizens of Hawaii can amend it to reflect whatever they wish.

What position should League take? Do we go for the higher voting requirement as is reflected in the court's decision, or do we lobby for the lower requirement, i.e. majority of voters cast on the question, or do we opt for something in between? We will need to consider all the pros and cons on the desired difficulty for calling a convention and come to a consensus on the position we will take.

A New Vote?

The Honolulu Advertiser in a March 26 editorial affirmed its opposition to a constitutional convention at this time, but called on the Legislature to place the question again on the 1998 ballot saying that "...the Legislature should respect the political will of the people by giving them a clarified chance to vote on a convention." This was in recognition of the fact that "... a majority of voters who were willing to express an opinion favored the convening of a convention."

If this sentiment grows, and the Legislature elects to put the question again for referendum, League will need to mount a intensified campaign opposing the convention unless the situation changes requiring constitutional revision which is unlikely.

In testimony before the Legislature on enabling legislation for a constitutional convention, and in a letter addressed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, League pushed for:

  1. a delayed convention - election of delegates in the 1998 elections and the convening of the convention in early 2000 allowing the public and potential candidates to the convention to become informed on the important issues and for voters to learn more about the qualifications of the candidates and their positions on various issues,

  2. adequate funding of the convention including pre-convention and post convention activities designed to prepare the candidates and the public for their respective responsibilities.

  3. the use of the State Capitol as the convention site because of its easy accessibility to the public, the availability of equipment needed such as phones, public address systems, etc...,

  4. full participation by the public with hearings, subject matter committee meetings, and floor sessions all open to the public and telecast on 'Olelo's channels, and the access room fully operational, and

  5. government as well as community efforts to provide candidates the means to communicate with the public so that the people can make informed choices in the election of delegates to the convention.

Jean Aoki
Chair, LWV Con Con Committee

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