POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 22, 2011
This year's state Reapportionment Commission will probably be best remembered for how it decides the contentious issue of whether to count nonresident military personnel and dependents in setting legislative district lines.
The nonresident groups, which also include college students from out of state, are not currently counted on the grounds that they don't vote here.
A 1992 constitutional amendment deemed that the population formula be based on permanent residents, but the last two reapportionment panels have flirted with the idea of doing otherwise and the political ramifications are significant.
More of the state's population is shifting from Oahu to the neighbor islands, and if some 70,000 nonresident military who are mostly on Oahu continue not to be counted, one of the island's state Senate seats likely will shift to Hawaii County in the reapportionment.
Not surprisingly, of the four county reapportionment advisory councils, only Oahu's is pushing to count the nonresident population.
The decision also has partisan implications, as counting the nonresident military could give Hawaii's struggling Republican Party a slight boost by creating more districts around military bases, where voters tend to be a little more to the right.
Hawaii is one of only two states that don't count nonresident military, along with Kansas. The federal government requires that they be counted in setting the boundaries for congressional districts.
There are strong emotions on both sides of the argument.
Veterans groups and other advocates for the military are pressuring to show the troops the respect of counting them even though they don't vote here. They argue that the military and their dependents pay state taxes, use state services, are actively engaged in the community and deserve representation whether or not they vote here.
But many on the neighbor islands naturally take umbrage at the idea of changing the rules just when it would conveniently preserve Oahu's power in the Legislature and deny the other counties the representation they feel they're entitled to by an honest count of those who vote here.
Counting those who don't vote, they say, leaves us with a skewed Legislature that doesn't genuinely represent the electorate and could potentially result in "empty districts" around military bases with lots of residents but relatively few voters.
The real impact, they argue, will be to magnify the political influence of civilians who live around military bases while doing little to increase the influence of military family members who don't vote here.
Legislative district boundaries are reset every 10 years based on population data provided by the U.S. Census.
The Reapportionment Commission, which must circulate a draft plan for public comment by August, deferred the issue at its last meeting after a closed-door discussion and is expected to take it up again Tuesday.