A commission that redraws County Council district boundary lines every 10 years plans an initial meeting Monday, but the numbers it needs to make its decisions have been delayed.
The county charter requires the Redistricting Commission to be formed by July 1 of the year of the decennial census, which are years ending in zero. The Redistricting Commission must file a redistricting plan by Dec. 31 of the following year to be used in the next year’s elections.
But delays in getting data from the U.S. Census Bureau means population numbers aren’t likely to be received until Sept. 30, rather than the March 31 deadline originally anticipated. That leaves the commission just a few months to get the maps ready before candidates begin pulling nomination papers Feb. 1.
“Due to the COVID situation, it looks like they’re not going to arrive until the end of September,” state Office of Elections spokeswoman Nedielyn Bueno said Thursday.
The county Redistricting Commission is charged with creating maps to balance each council district in light of population growth. The goal is to create districts of approximately the same size, so everyone gets equal representation in government. Ideal districts follow permanent and easily recognized features like rivers and roads, are compact and contiguous and don’t split neighborhoods of similar interest.
A separate nine-member commission on the state level is charged with creating district boundaries for the state Legislature and the state’s two congressional districts. That body’s process in 2011 ended with the Big Island being granted a fourth seat in the state Senate.
“We are acutely aware of the difficulties that this delayed delivery of the redistricting data will cause some states,” James Whitehorne, chief of the Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office for the census, said in a Feb. 12 blog post. “Some states have statutory or even state constitutional deadlines and processes that they will have to address due to this delay.”
The state commission hasn’t been formed yet. The state constitution gives legislative leaders until May 1 to appoint members, who are required to finish their work in 150 days.
While the commissions’ work at times may seem tedious, their results are important, and they’re closely followed by those running for office, their supporters and lobbyists. State-level drama in 2011 included a lawsuit over whether military members who don’t call Hawaii home should be included in the counts.
On the county level, the commission created two districts for fast-growing Puna, trimming one of Hilo’s three districts to accommodate the change and significantly changed West Hawaii’s political landscape by creating a Ka’u/South Kona district, a Kona district, North Kona District and Kohala District.
Two of the commissioners, Valerie Poindexter and Dru Kanuha, subsequently ran successfully for election to the council, resulting in a charter amendment passed by 74 percent of voters prohibiting redistricting commissioners from seeking election in those districts in the election immediately following redistricting.