by Bill Hicks
Proper apportionment of our population into representative districts is one of the cornerstone foundations of our democracy. Our Hawai‘i Constitution enumerates how apportionment shall occur every 10 years, using a bipartisan Reapportionment Commission following sensible guidelines. Improper apportionment for specific political purposes can result in gerrymandering, polarization, and the silencing of certain voices.
The Commission’s original O‘ahu House plan, released to the public in October 2021, had significant deficiencies, which included splitting Mānoa Valley’s House district and wrapping the Kailua-Waimanalo House district around Makapu’u Point, the traditional boundary between East Honolulu and Windward O‘ahu districts, all the way to Portlock. By placing much of Hawai‘i Kai’s population into a Windward district, the Commission’s plan pushed East Honolulu district boundaries much further west than would otherwise be necessary, splitting Hawai‘i Kai, splitting Mānoa Valley, and dividing the current Diamond Head area district into four different districts, much to numerous residents’ dismay.
A few concerned citizens constructed alternative plans, which proved these changes were unnecessary. Many Mānoa Valley residents joined Kailua, Waimanalo, and Hawai‘i Kai residents in providing testimony to the Commission hundreds of times between October and January that not only rejected the Commission’s proposal, but also showed the Commission a better way.
The Mānoa Neighborhood Board joined with 10 other Neighborhood Boards, altogether representing 300,000 O‘ahu residents, in passing resolutions rejecting the Commission’s proposal.
In late December and early January, the Commission made two significant revisions which eventually restored Mānoa Valley as one House district, kept the Diamond Head area intact, and retained Makapu’u Point as the boundary between East Honolulu and Windward O‘ahu districts.
However, the Commission did not honor the Hawai‘i Constitutional requirement that, “Where practicable, representative districts shall be wholly included within senatorial districts”. In fact, 35 of 51 House districts were not wholly included within one Senate district, even though it was entirely practicable to comply in all 51 districts. This failure has a real bearing on the quality and effectiveness of our representation!
If every House District is fully contained within one Senate District, then all elected officials would share a better understanding of community needs for schools, roads and other infrastructure, as well as enabling them to be more effective at representing each individual District’s unique needs. A lawsuit was settled seeking to correct this problem with the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, with Mānoa Valley residents again being at the forefront of this challenge to preserve our democracy.