Tuesday, January 19, 1999

U.S. Supreme
Court lets ruling
stand: no con con

By turning away the case,
it says blank ballots were,
in effect, votes against a
constitutional convention

By Star-Bulletin staff and wire reports


The U.S. Supreme Court today turned away a Hawaii dispute over a 1996 election on whether the state should hold a convention to consider amending its constitution.

The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling that the 1996 vote resulted in a rejection of the proposed convention.

At issue was whether blank ballots should, in effect, have been counted as "no" votes.

"As a practical matter, what it means is, except for the remaining issues in the District Court unrelated to the merits, the Con Con case is over," Hawaii attorney and Con Con advocate Mark Bennett said today.

"In future Con Con elections, blank votes will count as no votes unless the Constitution is changed," he said.

The Hawaii Constitution says a proposed constitutional convention is approved "if a majority of the ballots cast upon such a question" are in favor.

On the Constitutional Convention question that was part of the 1996 general election, 163,869 ballots were marked "yes" and 160,153 were marked "no." More than 45,000 ballots were left blank on that question.

The Hawaii Supreme Court, agreeing with state election officials, ruled that the convention proposal had failed, but pro-convention groups and individual voters sued in federal court. The lawsuit was led by Citizens for a Constitutional Convention and Let the People Decide.

A federal judge ruled that the Hawaii court's decision had violated voters' rights of free speech and due process, and ordered a new election. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last June set aside that ruling.

"Hawaii . . . is just deciding not to hold a Constitutional Convention if the majority of voters either don't want one or don't care," the appeals court said.

Cam Cavasso, executive director of Let the People Decide, today said it will be up to the Legislature to decide if a constitutional amendment -- to be ratified by Hawaii voters -- is needed so blank votes do not count as "no" votes.

Or, the Con Con question can be put on the ballot again if there is great demand among the public to do so. That could occur following a Constitutional Convention by native Hawaiians, he said.

In November's general election, Hawaii voters were asked again if they saw a need for a Constitutional Convention; nearly two out of three voters rejected the idea.

Acting without comment last month, the nation's highest court let stand Wyoming's ballot initiative system, which has the effect of counting abstentions as "no" votes.

The court at that time rejected a challenge to the state's deeming a voter initiative or referendum to have failed if the measure did not attract more than 50 percent of all votes cast.

The case acted on today is Citizens for a Constitutional Convention vs. Yoshina, 98-671. State Elections Officer Dwayne D. Yoshina today reserved comment on the case until he reads the ruling.

Star-Bulletin writer Pat Omandam and the
Associated Press contributed to this report.

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