Hawaii may figure prominently when the Supreme Court this fall considers a case where plaintiffs are seeking to have legislative districts drawn based on a count of eligible voters rather than the total number of residents. That’s because for nearly half a century, the Aloha State has had the high court’s permission to ignore transients when drawing its political maps. While the Constitution requires equal population among legislative districts, a principle known as one-person, one-vote, a 1966 opinion said that Hawaii’s “special population problems” justified using registered voters as the baseline. The problem, as Hawaii saw it, was the large concentration of military facilities on Oahu. Counting tens of thousands of service members would distort the electoral maps by awarding legislative seats to military bases.
The 1966 opinion by Justice William Brennan was careful to say that its decision was contingent on the particular facts before it, and that it was not approving the limitation to registered voters “for all time or circumstances, in Hawaii or elsewhere.”
Nevertheless, Hawaii has continued to use the same approach, with some modifications, ever since, said David Rosenbrock, who crunches the numbers at the Hawaii Office of Elections.
When drawing districts, the state excludes about 108,000 service members and dependents, as well as 15,000 out-of-state students attending the University of Hawaii, Mr. Rosenbrock said. Figuring out who should and shouldn’t get counted is a difficult task, involving coordination with the Department of Defense and periodic litigation, he said.