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Time to Fix a Dysfunctional System

County Council to address the way we elect leaders.

July 15, 2010
Dave DeLeon · Government Affairs Director for the Realtors Association of Maui

This proposal is historic.

For at least a generation, Maui County voters have complained that they do not understand our at-large council elective system, in which all of the voters elect all nine council members no matter where the voters live.

Why don’t we just vote for our county representative from districts, like they do everywhere else in the country, the voters always want to know. The answer to that question goes back into county history and is relatively irrelevant now. But systems don’t change on their own. Someone has to take the first step.

The proposal before the council would be that first step.

How we elect our council is set in the Maui County Charter, the equivalent of the county’s constitution. The proposal would ask the voters if we should change our elective system, from the current at-large system to one composed of nine equally sized districts, with a single council member elected from each district.

So South Maui voters would elect their representative to the council, like they do now for the State Legislature.

Why fix the current system? Because it is dysfunctional. For starters, many voters do not understand how the system works, as evidenced every election when many thousands of ballots are left blank.

The current system overwhelmingly favors incumbents over challengers. It requires that the candidates run throughout the county on three separate islands to gain a connection with the voters in far flung corners of the county. The incumbents, by virtue of their office, already have those connections.

The difficulties facing Lāna‘i or Moloka‘i challengers running countywide are extreme—their chances of winning are just about nil. So those incumbents are rarely challenged. Invulnerable politicians are not a good thing in a democracy.

And as the South Maui and Lāna‘i examples showed in the last election, the winners of those resident seats actually lost in their districts. This is not uncommon in Maui County.

It is time that we have an elective system that makes sense and results in the voters of a district getting the representative they want.

If you agree, please let the council know you do by phone, email or attending the meeting in person.



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