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State panel delays vote on legislative maps after bias alleged

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 6:01 p.m. HST, Feb 29, 2012

The state Reapportionment Commission today delayed approval of new maps for House and Senate districts to review concerns raised by a faction of House Democrats.

A final vote is scheduled for Friday.

The group of 18 House dissidents, who are opposed to the current leadership in the chamber, accused the commission of gerrymandering new districts to favor House Speaker Calvin Say.

Members said the new political boundaries pit more of their members in races against fellow incumbents and place more of their members in unfamiliar territory.

Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago said he did not know what effect the delay would have on his election operations. He previously testified that he needed the maps by today to begin allocating precincts, assigning voters and begin mailing voter notification cards.

Potential candidates for state office can not file for office until the plan is approved.

Rep. Della Au Belatti, a member of the dissident group, said she felt gerrymandering was clear based on "the drawing of districts without regard to natural, historic and political boundaries in order to reward or punish incumbents."

Commissioners have denied charges of gerrymandering — drawing political boundaries favorable to a particular person, party or faction — saying they did their best under tight time constraints.

The original plan adopted by the commission last year was tossed out by the state Supreme Court on Jan. 4 on the grounds that too many nonpermanent residents were included in the population base used to draw new political boundaries.

Hawaii island constituents sued, saying the inclusion of nonpermanent residents — nonresident military members, their dependents and nonresident college students — allowed Oahu to maintain a larger population base and negated population gains on their island, which otherwise whould have resulted in Hawaii island gaining a state Senate seat.

The commission, which is formed every 10 years to allocate legislative seats and draw up new district lines to reflect changes in the population based on the most recent census, rushed to redraw the maps to exclude about 108,000 nonpermanent residents in order to get the proposal to the state Office of Elections by today.

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