‘An amendment to end all amendments’

Community members criticized a proposed change to the county’s constitution that would transform how ballots are tallied for charter amendments.

The resolution to put the measure on the ballot this fall is in the hands of the Kaua‘i County Council.

The seven-member legislative body held a public hearing on Resolution 2008-33 last Wednesday and will start its work on it in committee today at the Historic County Building.

“Why are our politicians so afraid of our people having a voice?” Kilauea resident David Lord said. “This is the amendment to end all amendments.”

The proposed charter amendment would count blank and spoiled ballots or over votes as “No” votes when calculating the total votes cast in an election.

The county’s current practice is counting blank ballots as blank ballots.

“Why make it harder?” Kapa‘a resident Rich Hoeppner said. “This will cause a lot of distrust in what goes on in county government.”

Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who introduced the resolution, defended the proposed charter amendment.

She argued that theoretically in an election with 4,000 cast ballots, an amendment could pass with 10 people voting for it if only five people vote against it.

“Why should 10 people decide what’s applicable?” she said.

Hoeppner said by this logic the whole ballot process could be deemed faulty.

“Theoretically, a lot of things could happen,” he said.

The proposed charter amendment would also redefine what “a majority of all the votes tallied upon the question” means.

“This majority shall constitute at least 50 percent of the total votes cast at the election … this majority constituting at least 30 percent of the total number of registered voters,” the proposed resolution states.

The Kaua‘i Group of the Sierra Club was among those testifying against the resolution. Hanalei resident Carl Imparato, representing the group, noted a list of reasons why the council should reject the proposal.

Imparato said that taken together, the two proposed changes in the amendment compound the damage.

“Based on 13 percent abstentions and a 55 percent voter turnout, approval of a measure would require that 62 percent of the voters who vote on the measure would have to vote ‘Yes,’” he said. “At 40 percent voter turnout, approval would require that 88 percent of the votes cast on the measure be ‘yes’ votes. Clearly, the charter amendment proposed under Resolution 2008-33 would create dramatic biases against change.”

A voter’s decision to abstain on a ballot question should not be mischaracterized as a vote against the question, Imparato said.

“When a voter chooses to not vote on a question, the voter is not saying, ‘I prefer the status quo’ or ‘I oppose the proposed change,’” he said. “If that was what the voter felt, the voter would vote ‘No.’”

If the council passes the resolution, the proposed charter amendment will go before voters on Nov. 4 in the form of a “Yes” or “No” question.

In the resolution’s current form, that question will read: “Shall the county charter be amended to change the ratification of charter amendments?”

Kekaha resident Bruce Pleas said the question is “vague” and lacks any substance.

The ballot wording needs approval by the county attorney by Sept. 4, officials said.

Iseri-Carvalho said the county’s current tallying practice creates confusion among voters.

On the same ballot, a state constitutional amendment abstention counts as a “No” vote while leaving a county amendment question blank counts as a blank vote.

The proposed amendment would pull the county’s practice in line with the state’s, she said.

“The argument that consistency requires that the standards for approving charter amendments should be identical to those for approval of state constitutional amendments is ominous,” Imparato said, adding that it would start the county down “the slippery slope to losing other voter rights.”

Kilauea resident Scott Mijares said he opposed the resolution and the state’s practice because “by not voting you affect a result.”

Pleas said he often leaves parts of his ballot blank in elections for various reasons, such as not agreeing with the proposed change or not having enough facts to make an informed decision.

“I want my blank to count as a blank,” he said. “It is not a yes. It is not a no.”

He also said he opposed the proposed resolution because it would count spoiled ballots as “No” votes. These, he said, should not be counted in the total votes cast in an election.

“The question really is why do we need something like this?” Imparato said.

The council’s Committee of the Whole will also start its work on two other proposed charter amendments.

Residents, in their testimony, generally supported these two measures, also proposed by Iseri-Carvalho.

Resolution 2008-34 would restrict the mayor’s ability to transfer unencumbered appropriations except for specifically budgeted purposes with council approval.

The amendment would also stop the mayor from creating, filling or using any position other than its budgeted purpose without the council’s approval.

The councilwoman’s third proposed amendment addresses disclosure of interests by any member of the council or any board or commission’s immediate family.

There are three vehicles for putting a charter amendment on the ballot. A resolution by the council, by petition and through the Charter Review Commission.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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