VIEWPOINT: District council voting won't benefit Molokai and Lanai

The Maui News
August 3, 2010

Letters to the Editor

A district-voting system to elect County Council members will not benefit the people of Molokai and Lanai. To know this requires a clear understanding of how the various proposals for a district-voting system will affect the people of these unique islands.

The proposal that seems the most popular is to establish nine single-member districts, in which a single member is elected by the majority of voters in a geographic district to represent the district on the council. Single-member district voting has been established in the City and County of Honolulu and the County of Hawaii. These counties each consist of one island, whereas the County of Maui encompasses four separate islands.

Under a single-member district voting system, Maui County would be divided into nine geographical districts, established by a reapportionment commission. Because federal law requires that each person's vote have approximately equal weight in all elections (the one-person/one-vote requirement), the population of each district must be substantially equal. Because the populations of Molokai and Lanai are significantly less than the island of Maui, neither could be established as a separate district; they would have to be joined with other areas of the island of Maui. Molokai and Lanai simply do not have big enough populations to be established as separate districts. To do so would violate federal law. Therefore, under a single-member district voting system, it is likely that a resident of Maui would become the council representative for the residents of Molokai or Lanai. I do not see how a person who lives on Maui could have a realistic understanding of the day-to-day concerns and issues that face the residents of Molokai or Lanai.

There are other proposals for district voting; however, under any district-voting proposal, Molokai and Lanai could not be its own district, separate from other areas of Maui County. For this reason, I do not support district voting in any form.

There is no doubt that district voting would provide benefits to candidates. Supporters argue that candidates would run in small regions, reducing campaign costs, and perhaps encouraging more qualified individuals to run for office. However, such benefits would not apply to candidates who live on Molokai or Lanai. Candidates who live on Molokai or Lanai would still have to campaign on Maui, requiring additional costs for travel and accommodations.

At a recent meeting of the Maui County Council's Committee of the Whole, Lance Collins touted a telephone poll, completed by a Honolulu research firm. Mr. Collins asserted that the poll revealed that 75 percent of Molokai residents and 60 percent of Lanai residents support single-member district voting. Fifty residents of Lanai and 50 residents of Molokai participated in the poll. I question the validity of this poll and raised my concerns with Mr. Collins at the meeting. Mr. Collins confirmed that participants were asked whether or not they supported single-member district voting, but he could not say whether the Molokai and Lanai participants were specifically told that a single-member district voting system would mean that their island would be joined with other portions of the island of Maui and could result in Molokai or Lanai having a representative who lives on Maui. I never questioned the ability of the Molokai participants to understand the poll; I questioned whether the Honolulu research firm provided accurate information in order to receive accurate responses. I do not believe they did.

The issue of how council members are elected is important, and one that should be decided by the people after significant discussion, research and debate, not after a short telephone call from a research firm located in another county. Community meetings should be held throughout the county, allowing people to question and fully consider how a change to our current voting system will affect their rights.

Danny A. Mateo is the chairman of the Maui County Council and the Molokai residency representative.

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