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Countdown on Reapportionment

Article IV of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii specifies 1981, and every tenth year thereafter, as a year of reapportionment. It further specifies that a reapportionment commission is to be constituted on or before March 1 of each reapportionment year. This commission is to be made up of nine members: eight are to be selected by four specified members of Hawaii's Legislature, representing both majority and minority parties;* the ninth, who is to be the chairman, will be selected by the other eight. Not more than 150 days from the date on which the members are certified, the commission shall file with the chief election officer (Lieutenant Governor Jean King) a reapportionment plan for the state Legislature and a redistricting plan for the Congressional districts, which become effective after publication as provided by law.

The commission has the duty of allocating the total number of members of each house of the state Legislature (the Constitution establishes 25 seats in the Senate and 51 in the House) among the four basic island units: 1) Hawaii; 2) Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe; 3) Oahu; and 4) Kauai and Niihau. The "population" to be counted in determining this allocation is the number of voters registered in the last preceding (1980) general election. However, each basic island unit must have at least one member in each house. Once it has been determined how many senators and representatives each basic island unit will have, the commission must apportion the districts and redraw district lines to reflect any reapportionment that might be necessary. This is to be done in such a way that the population of the districts will be as equal as possible. The districts should be compact and should not favor any person or political faction. Other guidelines regarding redistricting are specified in Article IV, Section 6 of the Constitution.

The U. S. House of Representatives is apportioned by Congress based on census data gathered every 10 years, but the state commission will designate the district lines for Hawaii's Congressional districts. There are 435 seats in the House (as established by an act of 1929), and these must be apportioned among the states, with each state getting at least one seat. The remaining 385 are apportioned according to a complex formula called the method of equal proportions. The 1980 census data has been presented by the President to Congress, which is in the process of allocating the seats. Census tract data should be released after April 1. Hawaii's allotment of two seats will undoubtedly remain the same, but other states may gain or lose some seats. Because of population changes, the northeastern states could lose 17 House seats to western and southern states.

State legislative districts and Congressional districts must be drawn according to the U. S. Supreme Court's one-man, one-vote formulas handed down in a number of cases since 1962. This means that districts must be as equal as possible in terms of the population counted. Hawaii law does conform to these rulings.

Hawaii uses registered voters as the population base for state legislative districts and is one of only seven states to use a population measure other than total census data. In 1966, the U. S. Supreme Court decided in a Hawaii case, Burns v. Richardson, that this population base was constitutionally valid.

It appears Hawaii is unique in using registered voters as the population base for determining U. S. Congressional districts. Use of this base for U. S. House districts has not been specifically tested in the courts. The Hawaii Constitution makes it very clear that registered voters are the basis for state legislative districts but is not specific regarding Congressional districts. The implication is, it would seem, that the same base be used. The Reapportionment Commission, then, may have the opportunity to decide whether to use registered voters as the population base for Congressional districts, or some other method such as state citizens, actual voters, eligible voters, total population. Which population base is used can have an impact on where the district lines will be drawn.

As a result of population changes in the state of Hawaii, there is some likelihood that Oahu could lose two legislators (probably from the House), while Maui and Hawaii counties could gain one each. Also, population shifts have occurred within the counties, and because the population of the districts must be as equal as possible, district lines must be redrawn to reflect population shifts.

Since 1967, Congress has required that Congressional representatives come from single-member districts rather than at-large. Hawaii law has conformed with this requirement since 1969; prior to that date, the two representatives were elected at-large.

The Hawaii Constitution, however, allows for multi-member districts for the state Legislature but no district may have more than four members. There are many arguments for and against single-member and multi-member districts (refer to Reapportionment: Issues for the Eighties, League of Women Voters Education Fund, publication 340, and Hawaii Constitutional Convention Studies 1978, Article III: Reapportionment in Hawaii (Volume II), Legislative Reference Bureau).

The issues of reapportionment, described by U. S. Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter as "the political thicket," raises these questions which must be answered:

  1. How and where will the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission redraw the district lines for the state Legislature and the U. S. House?

  2. Shall we re-exam the issue of multi-member districts for the state Legislature?

  3. Can we justify continued use of registered voters as the population base for the Congressional districts, as well as for state legislative districts?

The foremost issue, however, is appointing the commission, and the countdown to March 1 has begun.

*These four legislators also appoint one person from each of the four basic island units to serve on an apportionment advisory council for that county.

Researched and written by Anne F. Lee.
Published by the
League of Women Voters of Hawaii
116 South King Street, #504, Honolulu, HI 96813.

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