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8th House seat unlikely: Reapportionment Commission begins its work

Recently released census data does not support an eighth seat in the state House for Hawaii Island, the state Reapportionment Commission was told Thursday.

The commission, charged with allocating the number of seats in the House and Senate to the state’s four basic island units, is scheduled to vote on that recommendation — which basically leaves the allocation of legislative seats as they have been since the 2010 census — at its Sept. 9 meeting.

Once the allocation of legislative seats is decided, the commission begins the process of drawing district lines for the state’s two congressional representatives and then the state-level seats. There may be little change in district boundaries based on the numbers.

Reapportionment Commission Chairman Mark Mugiishi said the commission welcomes public testimony. He asked testifiers email their testimony in before the meeting, so they can recap their main points in limited time at the meeting. Testimony can be sent to reapportionment@hawaii.gov.

The discussion about whether Oahu would lose a House seat to the Big Island has been ongoing since reapportionment after the 2010 census resulted in Oahu losing a Senate seat following changes in population and a successful lawsuit by Big Island residents to remove nonresident military families and students from the counts.

About a half dozen residents submitted testimony urging the commission to take a hard look at the numbers.

The data released earlier this month from the 2020 census, however, showed Oahu grew more than earlier census estimates predicted and the Big Island grew less.

Hawaii County’s 200,629 residents was an increase of 15,550 people, an 8.4% increase from 2010. In comparison, Oahu gained 63,301 people to a population of 1.02 million, a 6.6% increase. Maui County’s 9,920 extra people was a 6.4% increase to 164,754 and Kauai’s 6,207 additional people brought its population to 73,298, a 9.3% increase.

At the same time, the number of nonresident military families removed from the census, mostly from Oahu, is about a third less than it was during the last reapportionment process and the number of nonresidents students as of April 1 has also declined.

Dame questioned the difference in the military count, asking for a more complete explanation.

“What’s at stake is whether the Big Island gets another House seat or not,” Dame said. “If extraction was close to (the previous reapportionment after the 2010 census), the Big Island would get the House seat.”

But some commissioners noted the extraction of military families already includes the extraction of military dependents who may actually be Hawaii residents. If a local girl, for example, marries a service member stationed in Hawaii, she’ll be extracted from the data as a nonresident even if she maintains her state residency.

“If we took all the nuances that have been brought up here, that number would be smaller,” Mugiishi noted of the extraction process.

Commission staffer David Rosenbrock told the commission the staff applied the method of equal proportions that’s also used by the U.S. Census Bureau in divvying up congressional seats, more specifically the Huntington-Hill method. That showed that taken in its totality, the current breakdown of legislative seats is the closest to the ideal.

“The number of seats in the House and Senate have not changed based on these,” Rosenbrock said. “It seems like it could be a trade off. … They do kind of balance out.”

Although Hawaii Island’s average population in each of its house seats is the highest in the state at 28,584 to the statewide average of 27,130, its average population per Senate seat is 50,023 residents compared to the statewide average of 55,344, according to data provided by reapportionment staff.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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