January 15, 2002
Office of the Mayor
200 South High Street
Wailuku, HI 96793
808-270-7855, fax: 808-270-7870
I wish to testify in regards to the question that has been raised by the Commission about Articles 11 and 12 of the County Charter:
"(Articles 11 & 12) Initiative and recall - are the number of signatures required too high? Should they be based on actual voters or registered voters?"
In both Articles 11 and 12, citizens must collect signatures within 30 days from filing the petition (11-4.1, 12-4.1) from a number not less than 20% of the voters registered in the previous election (11-3.2, 12-3.2). The requirements as to the number and the time allotted are so burdensome as to make it difficult for any group of citizens to successfully file a petition for ballot initiative or recall. The striking absence of citizen ballot initiatives in Maui elections affirms the deterrent of these regulations.
First of all, the requirement for 20% of the number of registered voters is onerous on its face. Since 1996 the voter turnout Maui County elections has not been greater than 65% of registered voters. Thus, the number of signatures must be 20%/65% = 31% of the actual voters. In order to become law, an initiative must receive >50% of the actual vote. Thus, the petitioners must gather signatures equal to 31%/50% = 62% of the number of votes needed to actually pass the initiative. To expect a citizen or group of citizens to obtain the signatures of 2/3 of the voters they will need to pass the initiatives can only be construed as an onerous burden on the citizenry, precluding success at the outset.
The severity of these requirements can be further discerned by comparison with those in other states. In California, petitioners must gather signatures equal to 5% of the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial election. In the 1998 election, this was 56% of the registered voters. Therefore the number of signatures required for an initiative was 5% x 56% = 2.8% of the registered voters. Maui's requirement of 20% is therefore 20%/2.8% = 7.1 times as stringent as California's.
In addition, in California, petitioners have 150 days to gather signatures, compared to 30 days for Maui citizens, a factor of 5 times the stringency in the time requirement. Combined with the numbers requirement, Maui petitioners must gather signatures at 5 x 7.1 = 36 times the rate of California petitioners. A group or organization of Maui citizens must therefore be 36 times the size of a group in California in order to successfully gather the signatures for a ballot initiative within the time constraints. Clearly, this is a great inequity imposed on the citizenry of Maui against their right to petition the government to place an initiative on the ballot.
An additional inequity can be found in Article 11-3, which denies citizen initiatives any power to over the capital program, property taxes, appropriations, bonds, appointments, or emergencies. In contrast, in California, citizen initiatives may enact any law that the State Legislature itself can enact.
A comparison of the initiative requirements of different States (see ¬http://www.iandrinstitute.org/table3!1.htm ) shows that California is typical, and Maui is at least three times as stringent as the most stringent among the States in both its signature number requirements and the time period available to gather the signatures.
Therefore, to bring the Maui Charter in line with the regulations for citizen initiatives in other States, please consider the following amendments to the County Charter:
Article 11 Section 11-1.3 is repealed.
Article 11 Section 11-3.2 is amended to read:
"Such petitions must be signed by registered voters numbering not less than five percent (5%) of the number of votes cast for Mayor in the last regular Mayoral election."
Article 11 Section 11-4.1 is amended to read:
"1. Within one hundred fifty (150) days after the filing with the clerk of the affidavit described in Section 11-2, all papers forming an initiative petition shall be assembled and filed with the county clerk as one instrument."
Article 14 Section 14-1.2: the sentence:
"2. By petition presented to the council, signed by not less than ten percent (10%) of the voters registered in the last general election, setting forth the proposed amendments."
is amended to read:
"2. By petition presented to the council, signed by registered voters numbering not less than four percent (4%) of the number of votes cast for Mayor in the last regular Mayoral election, setting forth the proposed amendments."
Article 14 Section 14-1.3: the sentence:
"3. By petition presented to the county clerk, signed by not less than twenty percent (20%) of the voters registered in the last general election, setting forth the proposed amendments."
is amended to read:
"3. By petition presented to the council, signed by registered voters numbering not less than eight percent (8%) of the number of votes cast for Mayor in the last regular Mayoral election, setting forth the proposed amendments."
These amendments are modeled after the requirements in California, which is an exemplary State for its level of citizen involvement in ballot initiatives.
If these amendments are put to the voters and become law, they would work a profound transformation of Maui politics and Maui society generally. By making the citizen ballot initiative a practical possibility in Maui County for the first time, the voters of Maui will be able to engage their hopes for a better future and pull out of the resignation that so many feel about the political process. There is no better tonic for social health than the ability of people to act on their hopes for their community.
The experience of other States is that often very contentious issues are brought to the ballot by citizen initiatives. This contention, however, is extremely beneficial for the community, because it gets people engaged in discussions with their neighbors about issues that really matter, and propels the mass of citizenry to become educated about issues that are within their hands to decide. Such engagement stimulates the political imagination to seek and create solutions to societal difficulties that become neglected when the people are resigned out of a feeling of powerlessness. I hope that the Commission will discuss this set of amendments during their meetings in the Maui communities, and offer them to the voters in the November election.
Lee Altenberg, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Information and Computer Sciences, University of Hawai`i at Manoa
Address: 2605 Lioholo Place, Kihei, Maui, HI 96753-7118
Phone: (808) 875-0745, Fax: (808) 875-0348
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