Honolulu Charter Amendments – Blank vs. “No” Vote

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 cclcharter@honolulu.gov.

Correction:  this post originally incorrectly stated the second part of the test required for passage of state constitutional amendments.


3 thoughts on “Honolulu Charter Amendments – Blank vs. “No” Vote

  1. This post and the previous one were very helpful to my wife and I in completing our mailing ballots. Looking forward to further posts…. Natalie’s insight to the City’s complicated issues/matters are informative and beneficial for the low information voter like myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aloha Natalie,

    You say the rules regarding blank votes are different for Honolulu than for the State. But I confess I’m still confused after reading your explanation.

    Consider this example with regard to both the State rule and the CC Honolulu rule for counting votes on Constitutional or Charter amendments.:

    A proposal gets 50,000 YES, 40,000 NO, and 70,000 blanks among a total of 160,000 voters.

    The way I understand State rules, I believe this proposal would fail, because 50,000 is less than half of the 160,000 total votes cast upon this question (blanks are considered to have been cast). As I understand State rules, blank votes have the same effect as NO votes.

    But as I read what you said, you seem to conclude that this proposal would pass under State rules, because 50K YES is more than 40K NO — AND the 70K blank are NOT more than 50% of the 160K voters.

    This analysis for State rule will be a factor on Tuesday’s election because there are 2 State Constitutional amendments proposed on the ballot.

    Please find out what is the correct interpretation and provide the answer not later than noon on Monday. I’m a precinct elections official and am likely to get asked this question on Tuesday.

    Your explanation regarding CC Honolulu charter amendment vote counting is also not clear to me, because your quotation of Sec. 15-103 of the CC Honolulu charter sounds to me like the same language in the State rule, where I believe a court ruled, or else the legislature passed a law, saying that “the voters voting thereon” includes YES plus NO plus BLANK and therefore in my example the proposal fails simply because 50K YES is not a majority of the 160K total. I have heard, but have not seen the evidence, that for CC Honolulu my example proposal would pass simply because 50K YES is more than 40K NO and the 70K blanks are ignored (unlike for the State rule).

    Ken Conklin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for asking, Ken. After checking the state elections website, I agree with your analysis, i.e., more than 50% of the votes excluding blanks and over votes and more than 50% of the votes including blanks and over votes must be “yes” in order to pass. After running through a few examples, I wonder why they don’t just drop the first test.

      As far as the city charter amendment goes, the question did come up on Maui in 2012. Their corporation counsel confirmed that blank or spoiled ballots do not count for Honolulu amendments. See page 3 of this memo – http://www.co.maui.hi.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/16560.


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