Redistricting Commission gets to work: County Council districts expected to shrink, grow under new census numbers

  • County Council district 2020 population compared to the idea for redistricting

  • County Council district 2020 population compared to the idea for redistricting. (West Hawaii Today graphic/Hawaii State Reapportionment Commission)

  • Current County Council districts. Courtesy image

The numbers are in, and the county Redistricting Commission is beginning its work redrawing County Council district lines to accommodate population growth reported by the 2020 census.

The public can draw its own lines as well, thanks to software provided by the government. The public can create an account enabling individuals to draw and submit their own maps at https://redistricting.hawaii.esriemcs.com/redistricting/index.html.

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Public input is important, because the public best knows particulars about individual neighborhoods in various districts, Commission Chairman Bronsten-Glenn Kossow said at a meeting Thursday.

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.

The commission doesn’t have long to do its work because the U.S. Census Bureau was late providing data due to challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic. Maps are due by Dec. 31, according to the county charter. The new districts will be used by candidates who can start qualifying for election starting March 1.

Based on the new census data, the ideal council district will include 22,232 people. Districts shouldn’t deviate more than 10% above or below that ideal, nor should the difference between the most populated and least populated. Currently the difference between most and least populated stands at 19.38%.

A decade ago, the commission created two districts for fast-growing Puna, cutting one of Hilo’s three districts to accommodate the change, and it significantly changed West Hawaii’s political landscape by creating a Ka’u/South Kona district, a Kona district, North Kona District and Kohala District.

South Kona resident Brenda Ford, who has closely followed the process over the past three decades, said Puna should have had two districts a decade earlier. She sued the 2001 commission on the grounds the districts weren’t within the 10% guidelines.

“Puna was disenfranchised from having a second council seat,” Ford said. “We have to sue to get the commissions to do the right thing.”

Kona resident Chuck Flaherty also had his eye on East Hawaii boundary lines. He said the sprawling South Kona/Ka‘u district needs to be trimmed to make it easier to represent and to pull similar communities together.

“People in Volcano have a closer socio-economic relationship with those on the east side of island compared to those on west side of island,” Flaherty said.

With the new data, Kohala’s District 9 has the closest to ideal population, while Puna’s District 5 is the farthest. District 9 has 73 people over the ideal, while District 5 has 2,494 more than the ideal. North Kona, with 2,002 over the ideal, will also have to shrink in order to become closer to the ideal.

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Council districts whose boundaries will have to be expanded to bring in more residents include Kona’s District 7, which is short 1,814 from the ideal, South Kona/Ka‘u, short 1,484 and Hamakua, short 1,343.

This article has been corrected to indicate candiate qualification starts March 1.

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