Honolulu Charter Amendments – Blank vs. “No” Vote
by Natalie Iwasa, What Natalie Thinks, November 5, 2016
Some people are recommending “no” votes on all 20 Honolulu charter amendments. The questions may seem overwhelming, but a straight “no” without understanding each question is irresponsible in my opinion.
The first thing to understand about voting on the charter amendments is that a blank vote doesn’t mean “no” or “yes.” Here’s what the charter says about voting on amendments:
Section 15-103. Approval of Amendment or Revision --
No amendment or revision of this charter shall be effective unless approved by a majority of the voters voting thereon.
A blank vote is just blank and doesn’t count. (Note that the state has different rules. For state constitutional amendments to pass, a majority of the votes have to be “yes,” excluding blank and over votes, and more than 50% of the voters have to vote “yes” including blanks and over votes. If more than 50% of the voters leave a state question blank, it acts as a “no” vote.)
Next it’s important to realize and acknowledge that these questions deserve thoughtful consideration. If the majority of votes are “no,” opportunities for improvement in some areas of our city government will be missed.
For example, question 3 would allow salaries of staff attorneys of the Honolulu Ethics Commission (EC) to be set at a rate comparable to that of other attorneys within the city. A “no” vote keeps the status quo, which makes it difficult for the EC to hire and retain a good attorney. (They currently only have one on-staff counsel that this would apply to.)
Some people have pointed out that many of the issues behind these questions should not even be in the charter, and that is a valid point. The Honolulu Charter Commission did consider rewriting the entire charter and putting just one massive question on the ballot. I can understand why they didn’t do that, but we should look at simplifying our charter. That would likely cut down on amendments as well as misunderstandings of what each amendment would do.
One other thing to consider regarding blank votes is that they do make a statement. If the blanks outnumber the “yes” and “no” votes, perhaps it’s time to rethink the manner in which we make amendments.
Please also note that this process is not done after the election. The Honolulu Charter Commission will have at least one more meeting prior to the end of the year. At that time, they will prepare a final report that will be given to the next commission. Testimony will be taken, and I encourage people to submit comments. You can sign up for commission updates by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: this post originally incorrectly stated the second part of the test required for passage of state constitutional amendments.