Categorized | Elections, Featured, News

State elections appear set as judges shoot down redistricting challenge

Rep. Bob Herkes points to a change in the state House boundaries during a September 2011 meeting of the State Reapportionment Commission in Kona. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

A panel of three federal judges has rejected a challenge to the new state reapportionment and redistricting plan, and issued its 55-page ruling Tuesday.

The judges said they could not endorse invalidating the plan and ordering the State Reapportionment Commission to start from scratch, as that would be “spawning chaos rather than confidence in the election process.”

The judges also found “the equities and public interest weigh decisively against granting the preliminary injunction” and “tip overwhelmingly in the Commission’s favor.”

Also, they ruled methods used by the Commission were rational and passed Constitutional scrutiny.

The plan – finalized in March – was the second adopted by the State Reapportionment Commission and most notable in that it shifted one of the state’s 25 Senate seats from Oahu to the Big Island.

Eight Oahu residents sought a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court that would have stopped the state from using the latest map that outlines House and Senate districts.

Tuesday’s ruling in Honolulu – by U.S. District Judges J. Michael Seabright and Leslie E. Koba­ya­shi of Hono­lulu and 9th Circuit Judge M. Margaret Mc­Keown of San Diego – means the state Office of Elections, candidates and voters can now plan around those districts.

The Oahu group claimed the plan was unconstitutional and discriminatory because it excludes approximately 108,000 non-permanent residents – largely military personnel, their dependents and students who pay out-of-state tuition.

They also claimed excluding people violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and led the commission to draw up districts of unequal size, which in turn means unequal representation in the state Legislature.

State officials maintained those people should not be counted and cited previous federal rulings that support their position.

During public hearings throughout the year, the Commission heard both sides of the issue. Some said transient military personnel and students from other states and countries should not be included in the population because they don’t vote here; others said they should be counted because they use resources and facilities, such as roads, hospitals, schools and libraries.

In arguments last week, state attorneys said the planning process for the Aug. 11 Primary Election is well underway and the injunction would only lead to delays and disruption. They pointed out it could mean two Primary Elections – one for federal offices and a second for state offices – and could even impact November’s General Election, which includes the presidential race.

Previously, the Commission presented a state map that included most of those populations. That version was challenged in Hawaii State Supreme Court by Big Island residents and attorneys, who claimed the Commission was bound by its own mandate and the state Constitution to exclude them.

Attorneys Stan Roehrig, of Hilo, and Bob Kim, of Kona, argued that case, acting on behalf of Big Island residents Malama Solomon, Patricia Cook, Louis Hao and Steven Pavao.

The Supreme Court agreed with arguments by Roehrig and Kim and in January ordered the commission to re-draw the map.

At one hearing in Kona last year, members of the Commission and its staff admitted that culling each and every military member, military dependent, out-of-state student and other non-permanent resident would not be possible within the Commission’s deadlines.

With the latest ruling, the deadline for candidates to file nomination papers remains June 5.

This court case dealt specifically with the state redistricting plan. The county redistricting map, completed late in 2011, was not named in the court case.

Reapportionment is mandated every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

The State Reapportionment Commission included chairwoman Victoria Marks, vice chairman Anthony Takitani, Dylan Nonaka,
Clarice Hashimoto, Harold S. Matsumoto, Lorrie Lee Stone, Terry E. Thomason, Elisabeth N. Moore and Cal Chipchase, IV.

— Find out more:
State Office of Elections: hawaii.gov/elections

For the complete ruling, click the PDF button below:

U.S. District Court Ruling

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