To be a candidate for the Kauaʻi County Council you must be a resident and a “qualified voter” for two years preceding the election.
On the surface this seems like a reasonable requirement. However, it’s the most restrictive in Hawai’i and disenfranchises over 30% of Kauaʻi residents.
You could have been born and raised on Kauaʻi, perhaps a recent graduate or a veteran returning home, who has not yet registered to vote, and you would be declared ineligible.
However, you could move to Honolulu and run for election to the Council there, tomorrow. You could also possibly run for election to be a State Senator, State Representative, or even a member of the U.S. Congress. None of which have a minimum district residency requirement.
But unless you’ve been registered to vote on Kauaʻi for two years prior to being elected, you cannot run for the Kauaʻi County Council.
At least that’s what it looks like at first glance. Upon a second and third glance, the aforementioned conclusion becomes a bit muddy.
I must warn readers. The balance of this column will likely interest only policy nerds, prospective candidates, and possibly attorney’s with too much time on their hands.
According to the Office of Election, the qualifications needed are as follows: https://elections.hawaii.gov/candidates/candidate-filing/
* Kauaʻi County Council: Qualified voter of Kauai County at least 2 years prior to election
* City and County of Honolulu: Resident and registered voter of the appropriate Council District
* Hawai’i County Council: Resident and registered voter of the Council District at least 90 days prior to primary election, qualified voter of Hawai’i County for a least 1 year prior to election.
* Maui County Council: Resident in the area of the county from which the person seeks to be elected for a period of 1 year before filing, qualified voter of Maui County.
It’s my understanding that the Office of Elections for purposes of evaluating the qualification of new candidates for the Kauaʻi Council, interprets the words qualified and registered, as essentially synonyms. I’m not aware if this has ever been challenged in court.
You will see that “qualified voter” is used in relation to the Kauaʻi requirement. For Honolulu it’s “resident and registered voter”, and for Maui it’s “resident and qualified voter”. Hawaii County uses both “registered voter” and “qualified voter”, implying that they have different meanings.
So, is there a difference between a qualified voter and a registered voter?
Yes, we are digging down into the weeds, but in policymaking, the weeds are important and often where the rubber meets the road.
Being “registered to vote” seems pretty clear. You have filled out a form and have the paper to prove it. Being “qualified to vote” however could be interpreted as being of age and being a resident, thus qualified to be a voter, but not having yet registered.
To further confuse things, the actual Kauaʻi County Charter Section 3.04. does not use the word registered voter or qualified voter but rather says, “To be eligible for the council, a person must be a citizen of the United States and must have been a duly qualified elector of the county for at least two years immediately preceding his election or appointment.”
Why the Office of Elections chooses to use language different from that contained within the Kauaʻi Charter, I do not know.
Oxford defines the word “elector” as “a person who has the right to vote in an election.”
It would seem that all adult residents of Kauaʻi have the right to vote in our elections.
Yes, words matter. In this case, the prevailing interpretation of the words would appear to prevent otherwise qualified residents from running and serving on the Kauaʻi County Council.
Attorneys and residents out there who care about this kind of stuff – what say you?