Summer 2001 Home   Newsletters

Fall 2001

Winter 2001

President's Message: Bring 'em Back!!!! Who cares? (Maile Bay)
Gambling Heating Up (Dorothy Bobilin)
To All League Members - An Invite to Dine
Keeping the Public out of Public Access (Edward Coll)
Ulupono - A Conference on Violence Against Women
Public Hearing Schedule - Reapportionment Commission
Redistricting Plans Ready for Hearings (Jean Aoki)
Local League News - Honolulu (Pearl Johnson)
Local League News - Kauai (Carol Bain)
Fundraiser Alert - LWV Hawaii (Jackie Parnell)

Redistricting Plans Ready for Hearings

Will the latest proposed redistricting plan be adopted as is? Will there be changes in response to citizen concerns? Will there be a court challenge to the population base used in determining the population count for redistricting purposes? Will the proposed canoe districts survive despite the serious concerns of the residents of those areas?

You will have an opportunity to see and sense some of the problems being identified by area residents at the hearings scheduled throughout the state beginning with one in Hilo on September 10. (See the schedule.) While some of the information is available on the Commission website, we are told that detailed maps are available at some libraries and the County Clerk's Office. We have a copy of the CD that contains the proposed plans which you are welcome to view here in our office.

Redistricting Authority

Hawaii is one of only six states which assigns the responsibility for redrawing Congressional district lines to a body other than the state legislature. The five others are Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington. We are one of twelve states that give the primary responsibility of redrawing state legislative district lines to commissions and bodies other than the State legislature.

Does that mean that these states have eliminated politics and partisanship from the redistricting process? No, it seems it only means that now the commission has to take the heat of citizens' displeasure. Iowa seems to be an exception. Their redistricting is done by their Legislative Service Bureau, probably comparable to our Legislative Reference Bureau, and their laws require the Bureau to ignore political data, including the incumbents' residences, when drawing district lines.


Gerrymandering is alive and rampant everywhere, maybe especially where legislatures have the primary responsibility, and where there is one-party control. In 1992, there were many court challenges to new plans in many states, and no doubt there will be many challenges in 2001-2002. Any resident of a malapportioned district may bring suit and ask the court to make necessary corrections or to order new plans.

Of course, every state has its own constitutional provisions and laws that govern the redistricting process and guidelines. At the national level, we have only that which has been developed by cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The most recent ruling will affect many states' redistricting plans.

In the reapportionment following the 1990 census, the Justice Department, in enforcing the Voting Rights Act, encouraged states to create as many black and Hispanic districts as possible to give these minorities more opportunities to elect members of their own races into office. This resulted in the creation of weirdly-shaped districts that meandered all over the map drawing pockets of minority residential areas together joined only by long, thin strips to preserve contiguity.

When the challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, they were deemed unconstitutional. Racial gerrymandering runs contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. A recent ruling of the Supreme Court, however, makes the concentration of people into certain contrived districts acceptable, as long as race is not the primary factor.

While the U.S. Constitution prevents drawing district lines based on race, it does not prevent drawing them based on partisan or political grounds. So if a district is packed with members of a certain race, as long as the motive is to preserve it as a Democratic or Republican district, it's constitutional. Read the special report on redistricting, "New Twists In the Old Debate on Race and Representation," in the August 11th issue of the Congressional Quarterly. It may be available in the public libraries; I know you can find it at the Legislative Reference Library at the State Capitol. It is 8 pages long, and fascinating.

What Next?

As practiced in Hawaii and in almost every state in the nation, much of the gerrymandering is pure incumbent protectionism. We certainly are not anti-incumbent. One of the reasons we campaigned against the adoption of term limits for council members in the 1992 Election was that we recognized that the retention of some members with experience and institutional memories is important for any legislative body. Also, voters should be able to retain any of their representatives they feel are capable and responsible. We would oppose any scheme that unfairly discriminates against incumbents just as we oppose any laws that unfairly discriminate against challengers.

Perhaps we need to focus our attention on the appointive authorities of the Reapportionment Commission. The Constitution of the State of Hawaii provides that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House each pick two of the commissioners, and that the leaders of the minority party in each house assign someone to pick two each. Then the eight members pick the ninth member. To expect the commission to ignore politics entirely is unrealistic.

While the issue is still fresh in everyone's mind, what we need to do is call for a citizens' conference to review the appointive process and all other issues related to reapportionment – not a government-initiated conference but a conference called by citizen groups.

Jean Aoki

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