VIEWPOINT: District voting proposal should be on ballots in November

The Maui News
July 25, 2010

Letters to the Editor


Everyone on Maui cares about protecting the environment. We all care about ensuring that there are enough good-paying jobs. Keeping the cost of living down is a universally shared concern. We look to our local government as the primary place where these goals can be achieved.

One way to improve our county government is to elect council members by individual districts. District voting is not a new idea. Since the first Maui County Charter Commission in 1964, the idea has been discussed. From the start, the people of Molokai came to every Charter Commission asking for district voting. But, by majority votes it was decided that the system in place worked for our community, which was still primarily an agriculture-based economy.

As the 1980s wore on and tourism came to replace sugar and pineapple, the population and the diversity of needs of the community grew. We became like a patchwork quilt with different ideas and needs tied together by a common thread. Like other areas of the state at the time, these changes renewed calls for district voting. The idea was adopted in Honolulu and on the Big Island.

On Maui, however, a compromise was reached between the proponents of district voting and the old system. It is our current system. In this system, the district is countywide, or at-large, but each seat has a different residency area requirement that was set permanently in 1991. This compromise attempted to get area representation without offending the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote.

Yet, Maui as a diverse community has continued to grow and change. The countywide at-large system has been unable to efficiently or effectively respond to the diversity of needs and desires of our community. It's very difficult for any one person to be one of nine people who have to represent the same diverse group of 140,000 people.

The Maui County Council is considering a proposal by the West Maui Charter Working Group to put on the ballot in November, a measure to change our current system to nine single-member districts. A scientific poll conducted by Honolulu research firm Qmark Research in mid-April found that 65 percent of Maui County voters support single-member district voting. While Lanai support is slightly lower at 60 percent, the number is higher than average for East Maui at 69 percent, and 75 percent on Molokai.

Like the state House and Senate and federal congressional districting method, an apportionment commission would be convened every 10 years to review the population changes and draw up nine districts in a fair and reasonable manner after careful and transparent deliberations.

A few people oppose this change. They say that the voters don't understand district voting so it shouldn't be put on the ballot. They say that district voting will destroy small towns. And they say that Lanai, Molokai and East Maui are better represented under the current system.

The Big Island has had single-member districts for 20 years now. While sugar has disappeared, small towns around the Big Island continue to thrive as Hilo and Kona also grow.

Currently, Lanai has a 2 percent influence in all nine races - including the Lanai seat. Under single-member districts, that would be about a 20 percent influence in the district that includes Lanai. Molokai has a 5 percent influence in all nine races. Under single-member districts, that would be almost a 50 percent say in the district that includes Molokai. The Big Island has shown that single-member districts can be effectively used by rural areas to increase civic participation and influence in county decision-making.

I wholeheartedly reject the idea that the people in our community do not understand single-member district voting. I also reject the idea that the people in our community do not have the ability to compare the two systems and make an informed decision. I urge you to contact all council members and ask that they put this important and timely proposal on November's ballot at their Aug. 6 meeting. We ought to spend the next months debating the merits of the proposal and not whether it should be on the ballot.

* Lance D. Collins is an attorney and is secretary of the West Maui Charter Working Group.

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