An Uncertain Pre-election Summer

Here’s what we know. On Sat., Aug. 11, primary elections will be held in the state of Hawaii, and on Tuesday, Nov. 6, there will be a general election in our beloved commonwealth as there will be in every other state of the union and the District of Columbia.

Here’s what, at this late date, we don’t know.

Whose names will be on either those primary or general election ballots. Oh, of course, Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s names will be on the presidential lines in the general, and a passel of un- or weakly challenged state and local incumbents will appear on both election ballots.

There certainty ends because at this juncture, six weeks before the June 5 filing deadline, we don’t know the boundaries of 51 state House and 25 Senate seats, and we’re not likely to know until sometime after a May 10 hearing by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on a motion seeking an injunction. (Only lawyers could come up with a phrase like “a motion seeking an injunction”) to stop the implementation of the Hawaii State Reapportionment Commission’s final apportionment and redistricting plan.

“And who,” you might ask, “can we thank for this uncertainty?” Why, state Rep. K. Mark Takai and five unnamed registered voters, that’s who. They sued to stop the commission’s plan on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Now you ask, “Why?” Because, Takai and his five unknown confederates argue, the plan is based on population count that excludes approximately 108,000 non-permanent residents, most notably members of the military, their dependents and out-of-state students. Such a count, they assert, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

“Huh?” you may respond. “When I was stationed at Fort Benning, I wasn’t interested in voting for any local Georgia yokel. Uncle Tosh tried to persuade me to apply for an absentee ballot so I could vote for his high school classmate up in Wahiawa. I promised him I would, but I forgot.”

Be that as it may, according to Takai and friends, some Georgia boy stationed at Schofield might, just might, want to register to vote up there in Wahiawa.

Uncertainty prevails in regard to primary election turnout as well. (Not, obviously in the general. Presidential general elections always bring out a bigger vote; one with a native-born son on the ballot may well bring out a huge vote.)

Heretofore, Hawaii’s primary elections have been held in late September. Families have been back from their summer sojourns. The kids have returned to school, and those of voting age have been free to turn their thoughts to matters political.

But Aug. 11? That’s six weeks earlier than usual, and it’s in the very heart of the great summer slumber. Will the folks come out? Perhaps. To be sure, there are three marquee races in the Aug. 11 primary: for the United States Senate and the 2nd Congressional District on the Democratic ticket, and for the Oahu mayoralty on the nonpartisan ballot. But again, it’s August, it’s Saturday and it’s new. We’ll see.

Then there are those suffering hyper-uncertainty.

Consider, for example, Scott Nago and his staff at the state office of elections. Their printing of the ballots for each legislative district awaits the outcome of the 9th Circuit’s May 10 decision. County clerks will begin taking applications for primary election ballots June 12. But for what ballot, and who’ll be on it? What if the court holds for Takai and friends? Oh my.