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Friday, September 19, 2014         

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Multimember districts rejected

By Derrick DePledge

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The state Reapportionment Commission voted Thursday not to consider multimember legislative districts and to avoid canoe districts that cut across islands when redrawing the state's political boundaries.

Commissioners agreed to set both options aside, and to use existing political boundaries as a starting point, to give their technical committee guidance when drafting proposals for new district lines.

The commission agreed to delay until next week a decision on whether to exclude nonresident military and their dependents, nonresident students and sentenced felons from the population base. Advisory councils from Kauai and Maui recommended Thursday that the military and their dependents be excluded, but the commission is waiting for reports from Oahu and the Big Island.

The Reapportionment Commission is redrawing congressional and legislative political boundaries based on the results of the 2010 census.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie suggested in May that he might propose a constitutional amendment next year asking voters whether they want to return to multimember districts, the norm in Hawaii until a 1982 legal challenge.

The state attorney general's office told commissioners they were not constitutionally prohibited from considering multimember districts for the state Legislature provided they do not dilute racial or political groups within the voting population. The commission must use single-member districts for the U.S. House.

The commission split 5-4 against multimember districts, yet were more united — 8-1 — about avoiding canoe districts. The commission acknowledged that it would be difficult not to have a canoe district in Maui County, which includes Molokai and Lanai, but will try to avoid districts that stretch, for example, from Kauai to Oahu.

Harold Masumoto, a commissioner and former state planner, said multimember districts could lead to legal challenges if it appears certain geographic regions have more combined influence than others.

Dylan Nonaka, a commissioner and the executive director of the state GOP, said it would be difficult to establish multimember districts without also having canoe districts that cross between islands.

But Anthony Takitani, a commissioner and former state lawmaker, said the state could easily carve up the existing 25-member state Senate and 51-member state House into single and multimember districts.

"I think the issue was vetted enough," Victoria Marks, commission chairwoman and a retired judge, said afterward. "We got a legal opinion about it. I think we discussed it at some prior meetings as well. And so the vote is what the vote is."

The commission also announced that it has received the $664,000 from the Abercrombie administration necessary to proceed with a contract for software and technical materials to redraw district boundaries.

The commission is expected to publish proposed plans by early August and adopt final maps by late September.






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