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Con Con '78: A Wrap-Up
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Con Con '78: A Wrap-Up
For almost four years, the League of Women Voters of Hawaii has been involved in the Constitutional Convention. We sued the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to get the question on the ballot of whether we should have a convention; we lobbied for the implementing legislation once the legislature voted to put the question to the people; we sent to each delegate what we would like to see included (and in one case, retained) in the constitution from our program positions; we studied and came to concurrence on what a constitution should be.
Our Education Fund's Ka Po'e project generated almost $115,000 to develop a vast educational program of informational film, community meetings, and publications for the people of the state on constitution-making and held a week-long workshop for the elected delegates, bringing in excellent speakers and constitutional authorities from the mainland. After the convention, Ka Po'e produced TV pro/con mini-debates on selected amendments and a two-page newspaper advertisement for the voters' information.
What effect all of this effort had on the constitution-amending process and on the electorate we'll never know. We opposed two amendments, supported seven, and did not address the others. In that regard, we didn't do badly, though we're not certain that the vote reflected our admittedly utopian dream of an informed people voting for the good of the whole state. However, there are some areas we should address for future reference, namely the ballot and the informational handout.
That the proposed amendments and the ballot were complicated is a mild understatement. We feel that much confusion arose as a result of the ballot's format of blanket Yes, blanket No, or the unusual choice of an inferred Yes unless No was punched, which made voting overly difficult. Further complicating the situation was the Con Con committee's decision (and in our opinion an unfortunate one) to arbitrarily combine the 116 proposals into 34 items. Controversial amendments were combined with less controversial ones. We found ourselves having to oppose the package of legislative reforms, though we lobbied for them, because they were combined with an amendment calling for an appointed salary commission which could set legislative salary without a vote taken to approve it.
A more serious breach involves the information provided on the amendments by the Con Con. The akamai voter who tried to be informed about the proposed amendments no doubt was frustrated by material published by the Con Con which did not adequately indicate what was contained in each amendment. For example, on Courts; Judicial Selection; Discipline, it was not pointed out that included was creation of an intermediate appellate court, nor was the composition of the judicial selection commission described. For the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, it was not indicated that the Board of Trustees was to be composed of Hawaiians who would be elected by Hawaiians only. Under staggered terms, it was not pointed out that half the senators elected this year would serve only two years.
Just prior to the election, Circuit Judge George S. Fukuoka dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Maui News reporter to prevent the electorate from voting on the proposals because the Con Con informational handout was deficient.
"Obviously there are questions about the booklet and the ballot, and I believe if nothing else, she (the reporter) performed a service to the public for bringing out the ambiguities and difficulties involved in understanding the amendments," said Judge Fukuoka.
"I cannot fault the Con Con delegates but in hindsight if they simply asked for a yes or no, it would have simplified things a lot. There is misleading information in the booklet and ballot and there certainly is a possibility and perhaps a probability that many voters may misunderstand exactly what they are voting for."
Was all the effort worth it? Would we do it again? Our answer will have to be yes (blanket yes?) but we would need to keep a sharp eye on the structure of the ballot and what information is provided on the amendments. More informed voting occurs when there is a clear choice in simple language on the ballot. In addition we could also focus attention on how the delegates are elected. Since only 33% voted in the Con Con special election, and since there were almost six candidates for each seat, many were elected by a minority, and others elected by fewer votes than were received by others who were defeated in other districts.
Maybe hindsight is 20-20, but through this long and tiring pull, we learned a lot and have a lot of experience to offer the next group of Leaguers who will be confronted by another Constitutional Convention.
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