Shrinking military, students could affect reapportionment

  • Average estimated population of House districts (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

The number of nonresident military families and students to be extracted from population counts before state House and Senate seats are allocated to islands is down significantly from the 2010 census, a factor that could affect the distribution of legislative seats for the coming decade.

A group of Big Island residents sued in 2011 after the Reapportionment Commission left the nonresidents in the count. After the successful lawsuit, 108,767 nonresidents primarily living on Oahu were removed, leading to Hawaii Island gaining a fourth seat in the Senate.

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As the fastest-growing island in the state, Hawaii Island could rate even more representation this go-round, with an eighth House seat likely. The situation will become more clear once the block population numbers from the decennial census are released next month.

But lower numbers of nonresidents could make the picture less clear. Nonresidents are removed under the theory they’re counted in their home states.

The plan this year is to remove only 71,162 military and students, including 70,104 from Oahu, while 536 would be extracted from Hawaii Island, 225 from the Maui island unit and 297 from the Kauai island unit, according to a report presented Tuesday to the commission by staffer David Rosenbrock.

The military numbers come from United States Pacific Command, and the student numbers are gathered from public and private universities by collating the numbers at each institution paying nonresident tuition, Rosenbrock said. Both categories are reported as of April 1, 2020.

“The status goes up or goes down” each census, said Rosenbrock, who’s staffing his third Reapportionment Commission in Hawaii.

Rosenbrock said student numbers could have dropped because the coronavirus pandemic could have kept students in their home states. There were 10,629 out-of-state students in 2000, compared to 13,320 in 2010 and 6,747 in 2020.

The military reports the numbers of military, spouses and dependents who don’t pay taxes in Hawaii as an indication they’re not residents. In 2000, there were 73,996 military and dependents in the state, compared to 95,447 in 2010 and 64,415 in 2020, he said. It’s possible military presence was temporarily beefed up in Hawaii following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center, he said.

The commission expects to get population numbers for each of Hawaii’s 14,732 census blocks in mid-August. The state had 1,455,271 residents, up 94,970 from the 2010 census, according to state-level data the Census Bureau released in May.

After the nonresidents are extracted, the commission and the public should be able to start drawing maps on the ESRI software by early September. The Hawaii Supreme Court earlier this month gave the commission an extension to have all work completed by Feb. 27 because numbers from the Census Bureau were delayed by the pandemic.

Rosenbrock said where people register to vote doesn’t factor into the residency equation.

“It’s not about voting, it’s about representation and I think the feeling was they’re represented wherever they came from,” he said.

The state Supreme Court made the commission redraw the maps after the 2011 lawsuit by former state Sen. Malama Solomon, former Hawaii County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Pavao and party committee members Louis Hao and Patti Cook. In addition, Kona attorney Michael Matsukawa filed his own lawsuit on behalf of the public.

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Solomon said Tuesday what the numbers are doesn’t matter to her as much as that they’re removed from the count.

“I’m not stuck on the numbers; I’m stuck on the extraction,” she said. “That satisfies our case.”

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