Hawaii’s island counties will continue being represented by lawmakers who live there, according to Thursday’s vote preventing districts from crossing from island to island.
The Hawaii Reapportionment Commission decided 8-1 against so-called "canoe districts," where a single lawmaker would represent people on more than one island. They’re called canoe districts because legislators would have to travel by water to reach each end.
The panel also voted to maintain single-member districts across the state, where each House and Senate district has one representative rather than larger, multimember districts.
The decisions were the commission’s first significant actions as it begins shaping new political boundaries following last year’s Census count.
The state did away with canoe districts 10 years ago, the last time it redrew political lines, but the idea was reconsidered this year before being shot down Thursday.
"Having canoe districts is not best for the people they represent," said commissioner Clarice Hashimoto before the vote.
Lawmakers should be close to their voters, and that means drawing district lines that stop at the geographic borders of each island, commissioners said.
"The people don’t like it. They want a representative who lives on their island," said Jean Aoki of the League of Women Voters.
The exception to the rule will be Maui County, which encompasses the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai but has districts that stretch across all three.
The lone commissioner casting a "no" vote, Calvin Chipchase, said the commission shouldn’t limit its options before deciding how many legislators each island will get.
Canoe districts were a way to ensure each district contained similar numbers of residents, and some districts currently contain different populations because they’re contained to their islands.
"I know they’re not popular … and I can certainly understand why," Chipchase said.
The vote calling for single-member districts was closer, at 5-4. Advocates for multimember districts have argued they allow for more diverse candidates to be elected.
But commissioners said multimember districts would only work in Hawaii if it also created canoe districts, so that each district would have equal representation. For example, Kauai only has one senator, but a multimember district on Oahu could potentially include five senators.
Commissioner Tony Takitani said multimember district members could work together for their islands instead of representing only their areas.
"Congeniality of the members in the multimember district is very different. We worked together in a really different type of atmosphere, and I really miss that," said Takitani, a former Maui representative in a multimember district.
Hawaii had districts represented by more than one lawmaker until 1982, when a federal lawsuit challenged the practice.
The commission deferred decisions on whether to include nonresident members of the military and out-of-state students in district apportionments.
The commission has until August to prepare a plan setting voting district boundaries, and then a final plan would be decided following public comment during the week of Sept. 26.