HILO — Citing the cost and prospect of a low turnout, the Charter Commission on Thursday rejected the idea of a special election devoted to charter amendments.
Instead, what could be a long list of proposed amendments will share a Nov. 3, 2020, ballot with selections for president, Congress, county mayor, prosecutor and County Council. Presidential elections historically have the highest voter turnout, and commissioners wanted more people to participate in language changing the county’s fundamental governing document.
Election officials estimate a special election, which would be a mail-ballot election, would cost $444,950.
Commission Chairman Doug Adams had offered a special election as a possibility because the commission’s timeline will have all proposed amendments sent to the county clerk in early September, leaving 14 months before the general election.
“I just bring up the idea that holding a special election is an option,” Adams said. “I received a variety of comments.”
Commissioner Sarah Rice seemed to speak for the commission majority.
“I can appreciate getting this underway, but listening to the public testimony and from my perspective, it would be better to consider it with the regular election,” Rice said. “I just don’t see spending that kind of money for a special election. … Having that extra time until November 2020 is better. We can do more education.”
So far, 11 amendments have made it through first reading and nine more were being considered during a lengthy meeting Thursday.
The commission is continuing to vet new proposals at May and early June meetings, with the intention of voting on them all at a second-reading meeting June 21. A report will be prepared for the County Council, which can’t veto the measures, but can offer alternatives to be placed on the ballot.
Most testifiers Thursday supported having the proposed amendments on the 2020 general election ballot. That would give plenty of time for voter education, they said.
“I see no reason to spend $445,000 or $774,000. There’s nothing so pressing that needs to be changed before November 2020,” said Debbie Hecht. “It would be better to have more time to fully educate people on the pros and cons.”
“It’s a waste of county funds ,” said former Councilwoman Brenda Ford. “Rather than spending a couple hundred thousand … use that money to put in a pro and con explanation.”
Testifier Cory Harden had mixed feelings.
“If we have lots and lots of amendments that would get lost in a general election, it might be worth it to have a special election,” Harden said.
She suggested the county research past elections to see if it would affect turnout.
A majority of those voting on each charter amendment determines whether it passes, unlike amendments to the state constitution, which require a majority of all those voting in the election, even if they don’t vote on the amendment.