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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 26, 2001

Reapportion groups must not fear creativity

The 2001 Reapportionment Commission will meet early next week to choose a chair and begin the task of drawing the maps that will become Hawai'i's political districts for the next decade.

This is important work. It impacts the political future of incumbents and newcomers to politics. It creates the basic framework by which communities are either fairly, or unfairly, represented.

The first order of business for the eight members already on the panel (four Democrats, four Republicans) will be to chose a ninth who will serve as chair. This is a task for someone with impeccable bipartisan or nonpartisan credentials and a reputation for fairness.

If the panel cannot choose a chair, that task will be up to the Hawai'i Supreme Court. That's an acceptable alternative, but there will be more political buy-in to the commission's work if the chairmanship is decided by the members themselves.

Beyond these organizational matters, however, is the real work of drawing district boundaries for the 51 House districts and 25 Senate districts.

Actually, those numbers are not immutable. It is possible, although unlikely, for the commission to carve up the electoral map in a different way. For instance, it could choose to return to a system in which at least some lawmakers are elected from multi-member districts.

Such districts have their drawbacks and can be created mischievously, to submerge and disenfranchise one group with the dominant numbers of others.

But they can also provide opportunities for newcomers and "second-choice" candidates who might never prevail in winner-take-all single-member districts.

Multi-member districts would also be one solution to the so-called "canoe districts" that straddle more than one island.

Whatever the commission decides, the important thing is to push for a plan that as much as possible maintains the integrity of existing communities, gives various ethnic and economic groups a fair shot at representation and comes as close as possible to the constitutional ideal of "one person, one vote."