Native Votes Count!
Hawaiian Homesteaders in Ho`olehua, Kapa`akea, and Kalama`ula received visits from volunteers last week offering bumper stickers, tee-shirts and voter-registration forms. “I am Hawaiian and I Vote,” “Native Votes Count” and “Voting is my Kuleana” are the slogans of the year for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s 2006 voter registration campaign, said Rosalee Puaoi. Puaoi came to Molokai last Tuesday as part of a statewide campaign to help remedy what has long been a disturbing lack of democratic participation by Native Hawaiians. Only 20% of Native Hawaiians voted in the last election season, compared to a 50.8% overall participation rate—itself low by national standards.
Puaoi believes that the primary problem for Native Hawaiians has been accessibility. “Either people don’t have a mailing address,” she explained, “or they live in a rural area where they have trouble getting to the polls.” A lack of faith in the process, and a feeling of powerlessness are also issues, she explained. “They just feel like their one vote just doesn’t make a difference,” said Puaoi. “That’s why we say ‘Native Votes Count.’ We need to get that idea out there.” Puaoi is encouraged by the positive response she has received here on Molokai and elsewhere.
“A lot of people want to vote,” she said, explaining that certain procedural changes will make it easier for them to do so in upcoming elections. If you don’t have a mailing address for example, the registration form now allows for a physical description of where you live. “I live next to the grove of trees across from the pond, eight miles east of town,” is a perfectly acceptable address, says Puaoi.
Absentee ballots have also become more widespread, making the problem of getting to the polls on Election Day less of an issue. New this year is the presence of 15 deputy-voter-registers statewide who are licensed not only to pass out registration forms, but also to collect them as part of a non-partisan “get out the vote effort.” Volunteer Kammy Purdy, President of the Molokai homesteaders’ association, Ahapua`a, expressed pride over the efforts of volunteers, who aimed to canvass hundreds of homes last week. “We’re not out there for the Democrats or the Republicans,” she said. “We’re after that Native vote.”