Confused by all those charter questions on the ballot? Here’s what you need to know

Voters across the state are not just voting for candidates this year.
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 5:48 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 2, 2022 at 2:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In addition to throwing their support behind candidates, voters filling out their ballots on every island are wading through sometimes difficult to understand charter amendment questions.

The charter is basically the Constitution of the county and the idea of changing it can be intimidating.

But on Oahu, the questions this year are not that scary ― just confusing.

At the Honolulu Hale ballot drop box on Tuesday, voters like Naomi Kim and Daniel Gonsalves said they did their research about the charter amendment questions. Kim got her information from the Office of Elections website.

“My friend told me about it so I went there, and I read about it. Still, it was hard to understand.”

Gonsalves voted yes on three questions. “There’s just one that I answered ‘no’ to. The fourth one,” he said.

Voters filling out their ballots on every island are wading through sometimes difficult to understand charter amendment questions.

That fourth question was whether the Office of Council Services should be made permanent by placing it in the charter. It also gives council lawyers the ability to give legal advice to the council, instead of corporation counsel.

Waters said when the corporation counsel briefs councilmembers on lawsuits, the council’s own lawyers are told to leave the room. Council Chair Tommy Waters said the amendment would let the council get independent advice.

“The Corp. Counsel represents both the mayor and the City Council,” Waters said.

“And in my mind, there is a conflict there.”

Back when the Council was asked to approve a payoff to former Police Chief Louis Kealoha, then corporation counsel Donna Leong was involved and now she’s indicted.

Waters said that wasn’t his primary reason for proposing the change in attorneys’ role.

“I can’t say because I wasn’t there, just speculating. It would have been good to get another opinion from another lawyer. And here that would be the office of counsel services,” Waters said.

Gonzalves, who voted against the amendment, said that didn’t outweigh his concern about growing government.

“I just didn’t see it as being something that I agreed with,” he said.

There is not a lot of controversy with question number one, which would direct more money to the city Housing Fund for projects serving people with lower and middle incomes ($78,000 for a family of four).

It would double the amount of tax dollars for that fund, adding $7 to $8 million a year.

Question two requires the mayor to appoint a more diverse Planning Commission, including experts on Hawaiian culture, planning, construction and climate change.

Waters said that was proposed because council members said the commission was too dominated by trade union and industry leaders.

“If you’re just putting developers, or union folks on there, you have people who just want to build stuff. But really, you got to start thinking about climate change when you are granting these permits,” Waters said.

Question three simply allows more flexibility for the city’s preservation fund to buy and manage property.

Maui County has the most proposed amendments this year, with 13, and Kauai and Hawaii counties have a handful. The details on all the charter amendment questions can be found on the Hawaii Elections Division website.