Keep At-Large Voting System

Community Contributed by Danny Mateo

The Charter Commission will be meeting at the Mitchell Pauole Center on July 11, 2011, at 6:30 p.m. The issue of whether the Charter should be amended to establish a district-voting system to elect County Council members may be discussed.  In my opinion, a district-voting system will not benefit the people of Molokai.

The district-voting system proposal that seems the most popular is to establish nine single-member districts, in which a single member is elected by the majority of voters in a geographic district to represent the district on the Council. Single-member district voting has been established in the City and County of Honolulu and the County of Hawaii.  But both counties encompass only one island, unlike the County of Maui, which consists of Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kaho`olawe.

Under a single-member district voting system, Maui County would be divided into nine geographical districts, established by a reapportionment commission. Because federal law requires that the voting power of each voter be as equal as possible to that of any other voter (the one-person/one-vote requirement), the population of each district must be substantially equal. Because the population of Molokai is significantly less than the island of Maui, Molokai could not be established as a separate district; it would have to be joined with other areas of the island of Maui. Molokai simply does not have a big enough population to be established as a separate district. To do so would violate federal law. Therefore, under a single-member district voting system, it is likely that a resident of Maui, which has a much larger population, would become the Council representative for the residents of Molokai. I do not see how a person who lives on Maui could have a realistic understanding of the day-to-day concerns and issues that face the residents of Molokai.

There are other proposals for district voting; however, under any district-voting proposal, Molokai could not be its own district. For this reason, I do not support district voting in any form.

Supporters of a district-voting system argue that candidates would be able to run for election in smaller regions, reducing campaign costs, and perhaps encouraging more qualified individuals to run for office. This argument may be true for some districts, but not for candidates who live on Molokai. Molokai residents would still have to campaign on Maui, requiring additional costs for travel and accommodations.

The issue of how Council members are elected is important, and one that should be decided by the people after significant discussion, research, and debate.  The people of Molokai should question and fully consider how a change to our current voting system will affect their rights.

Danny A. Mateo is the Chair of the Maui County Council, and the Molokai residency area representative.

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