Candidates Weigh In on District Voting: Part II

One of the greatest issues that will face the next Maui County Council is the proposed change to how members are elected. A group of Maui residents are pushing to replace the current at-large system with nine single-member districts, which would redraw district lines according to population and eliminate seats that represent Molokai and Lanai exclusively.

Currently, council members are elected at-large by voters countywide to represent one of nine districts, meaning members can lose their districts but be elected by winning the countywide vote.

Proponents say with single-member districts, candidates wouldn’t have to campaign countywide – a costly effort that leads to more incumbents running unopposed – and council members would be elected solely by their constituents. But opponents warn the change would weaken rural districts’ representation on the council.

The Dispatch asked candidates for the county council how they felt about this issue. Last week we heard from West Maui, Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu, Makawao-Haiku-Paia, Upcountry and Molokai district candidates. Below are East Maui, South Maui, Lanai, Kahului and mayoral candidates’ responses.

Yes = For district voting: would eliminate Molokai and Lanai seats
No = Against district voting: council seats remain as is

East Maui

Bob Carroll: I am opposed to district voting. The system we have now, Molokai, Lanai and Hana have representation. Before [at-large voting], we never got anything new. We got secondhand trucks and we never got the services we needed. Only when we got a representative on the council did we start getting the attention we need. Before that, nobody thought about Hana. If they do district voting, they’re going to forget about us. We’re not going to have advocates. NO

Bill Medeiros (Incumbent): I think that would be a disservice to the people of Molokai, Lanai and Hana because you would no longer have the access to representation in the county government… As far as East Maui, we have one of the largest geographic areas but with the smallest population. I would support keeping it as it is with at-large voting. I think that’s a fairer representation of small districts, but it should be left to the will of the people. If goes on the next ballot, the people will decide. NO

South Maui

Don Couch: I support single-member districts over the current at-large system because clearly the current system is broken. The current system gives incumbents a huge advantage. Once elected, the incumbents from Lanai and Molokai have a guarantee of five terms (the limit) because no one from Lanai or Molokai can afford to run against them. Every election, about 10,000 votes are left blank because the voters don’t understand the system. Now Molokai has no control over who is elected to represent you. Central Maui has that control. In a single-member district Molokai would be half the district and could control who is elected. YES

Wayne Nishiki (Incumbent): Those of us who have had the privilege of visiting Molokai know that it is a special place.  While sharing some of the same concerns for jobs, affordable housing and adequate water resources as the rest of Maui County, Molokai’s natural assets and the lifestyle of its people are unique among our islands.  These attributes make it imperative that Molokai continue to have its own council member who resides on the island. This will ensure that Molokai’s voice will remain strong, clear and undiluted. NO

Lanai

Riki Hokama: No, I didn’t support it the last time, which was about 14 years ago, and I still don’t support it now. For communities like Molokai and Lanai, unless they’re going to change the charter to have more than nine members, I don’t see a member from our island sitting on the council… With our unique geographical situation, this is what works well. You have a person from Molokai speaking for their issues and a person form Lanai speaking for our issues… Some of the comments on the shortcomings of the current system are more about the council member not being able to work with other council members to get their ideas supported. NO

Matt Mano: The answer to that question would be simple. Why would anyone agree to that style of district voting by eliminating Molokai and Lanai’s seat[s] all together? I believe that the law should be changed to read: separate island district. Of course, we are separated by water, then separate the voting. NO

Kahului

Joe Pontanilla (Incumbent) did not return calls for comment.

Mayoral

Charmaine Tavares (Incumbent): I think that district voting has its advantages but the big disadvantage to me is that the smaller communities will not have representation like Molokai, Lanai and Hana. Whatever discussion is going to occur, there needs to be a way to ensure that those districts get represented… I think that it’s difficult for people to know, because we vote at-large, who all the candidates are; it’s difficult to campaign because you have to campaign on all three islands, so there are pros and cons of it. But I think it is most important to make sure each community has some sort of representation. MAYBE

Alan Arakawa did not return calls for comment.

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