An election to determine a way forward on self-governance for Native Hawaiians has been canceled. Still leaders from the group Naʻi Aupuni say they will go forward with a four-week long constitutional convention next year. HPR’s Molly Solomon reports.
To avoid what could be years of litigation, organizers have terminated a vote some say may have been a path to Hawaiian nationhood. "No further votes will be accepted," said Kuhio Asam, the President of the group organizing the election, Naʻi Aupuni. "And no votes already cast will be counted."
Native Hawaiians were voting to determine delegates to a constitutional convention, or ‘Aha, that would be held next year. Critics say the convention is unconstitutional and racially exclusive because it only includes those with Native Hawaiian ancestry. A group sued to block the election and earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an injunction to stop the vote. While that decision halted the election, Asam says it won’t stop Naʻi Aupuni from going forward with the four-week convention. "We anticipated this path would have twists and turns and significant obstacles," said Asam at Tuesday's press conference. "But we are committed to proceeding to the ‘Aha, where this long overdue conversation can take place."
That conversation will include significantly more voices. Instead of the elected 40 delegates, organizers are now inviting all 196 candidates to have a seat at the table. "Naʻi Aupuni is desperate," said Grassroot Institute of Hawai‘i president Keli‘i Akina, a plaintiff in the case challenging Naʻi Aupuni. "They've just made a move to bypass their failed election process and ignore their own voter base by going straight to a constitutional convention. In other words, they're undercutting their own efforts to even look democratic."
The 196 who were running will now have a week to decide if they want to join the convention as a delegate. "It's disappointing," said Naʻi Aupuni candidate Annelle Amaral when she heard the news that the election had been halted. She says she plans to accept a seat at the ‘Aha. "I'm glad that they opened a door for us to figure another way." But a key frustration for Amaral is not hearing the voices of those who voted before the election was halted. "I don't think we can ignore that people were committed enough to cast a ballot, and now we aren't going to consider them anymore," said Amaral. "I think that's bad news. We've got to figure a process that keeps the community engaged."
A lack of community involvement is a concern shared by UH Mānoa professor Jon Osorio, a critic of Naʻi Aupuni. "We've found faults with the whole process from the very beginning," said Osorio. "This is only the latest mockery." Osorio says the decision to take away the opportunity to vote for delegates diminishes any effort toward self-governance. "What this says to all Hawaiian people, is that it doesn't matter that you voted or not, it doesn't matter if you signed up or not. What matters is we have 196 people who say they want to play, and those are the ones who are going to get to play," said Osorio. "Whatever they come up with, I'm going to be one of the thousands of people who say, 'you do not represent me, you do not speak for me.'"
Organizers of the convention say the larger group will need a bigger venue and plan for the ‘Aha to take place in Kailua. They’re also bringing in a mediation team to help facilitate participation and discussion. The four week convention begins in February next year.