Carving up the voting map

LIHUE — The Kauai Charter Review Commission on Monday amended a proposal to divide elections for Kauai County Council members into seven districts, which could mean less votes but potentially more power to constituents.

Final decision on the proposed Charter Amendment, however, was deferred to October.

“I feel very under-represented,” said Commissioner Joel Guy, who lives on the North Shore and has been a strong supporter of districting.

“When you live out there your whole life, and you still don’t have a playground from Hanalei to Haena, yet we got new parking lots and new activity going on at the county, it’s challenging,” he said.

If the proposal goes through as it is, it would go to a ballot and voters would have the ultimate say in the 2014 elections. The change would mean that rather than voting for seven at-large council members, Kauai constituents would only be allowed to vote on one council race inside the district in which they live.

Commissioners started discussing districting in the beginning of the year, but it was only Monday that Commissioner Ed Justus presented a sub-committee report, which was approved by the commission.

Though the report was approved, commissioners can still tweak exactly how redistricting would look.

The sub-committee report proposed five districts divided by population numbers, and two at-large council seats.

“The proposal before us basically gives us three votes and that’s not acceptable,” said Kapahi resident Ken Taylor, adding he would like to vote for at least four council members.

Commissioner Carol Suzawa unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to change the five districts into three, reflecting the districts in the elections for state representatives, and four at-large council seats.

Suzawa’s amendment would have allowed voters to vote for five council members, but she didn’t received any support from her fellow commissioners.

In past elections, Kauai voters rejected three times a Charter Amendment to change council elections into districting. Each time, the amendment represented a hybrid proposal, and each time it got closer to approval, according to Kalaheo resident Jonathan Jay.

Jay said the simplest way to get an answer from Kauai residents would be to ask, “Do you want districts for Kauai?”

He said he voted for districting in the past, but admitted he didn’t like the hybrid proposal, and supported seven different districts.

“If you want a clean understanding, ask a simple ‘yes or no’ question,” he said.

Commissioner Jimmy Nishida made a motion to amend the proposal to seven council districts. Nishida’s motion passed by a 4-2 vote. Commissioner Patrick Stack was out on an excused absence, and Justus and Suzawa voted against it. Commissioners Nishida, Guy and Mary Lou Barela, and Chair Jan TenBruggencate voted for it.

The commission got stuck on a 3-3 vote whether to create a sub-committee to hold public meetings on the subject. However, the public is still allowed to attend and testify at every commission meeting, held once a month.

Guy, who voted against creating the sub-committee, said he felt like he had done his job of reaching out to the community, and moving toward the subcommittee would add more steps to the process. The commission ultimately deferred the matter to Oct. 28, at the Moikeha Building in Lihue at 4 p.m. The proposal will reflect seven districts approved Monday and no at-large seats.

“But as you’ve seen here today, things change,” TenBruggencate said.

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