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Hawaiian Election Halted, Convention Scheduled

Following a U.S. Supreme Court order that prohibited the counting of votes in a contested Native Hawaiian election, Na`i Aupuni – the nonprofit running the election – has announced it has terminated the election process. Rather than registered voters picking 40 delegates for a convention, or `Aha, that will be held in February, Na`i Aupuni officials have said all 196 candidates will be offered a seat at the `Aha.

In late November, a Supreme Court justice issued a temporary hold on ballot counting in response to a legal challenge filed by a group that claimed it is unconstitutional to hold a racially exclusive election. The Na`i Aupuni election was originally scheduled to last one month, with a voting deadline on Nov. 30. The organization then extended voting until Dec. 21.

On Dec. 2, the Supreme Court issued an order permanently enjoining the counting of ballots of the announcement of election winners.

Despite the failed election, Na`i Aupuni says it is moving forward to hold the `Aha. The goal of the convention, according to Na`i Aupuni, is to form a platform for discussion that could lead to the ratification of a constitution or recommendations for future actions. The `Aha will take place over four weeks in February. In a statement last week, Na`i Aupuni said it hopes the delegates will “discuss and hopefully reach a consensus on a process to achieve self-governance.”

“Our goal has always been to create a path so that Hawaiians can gather and have a serious and much-needed discussion about self-governance,” said Na`i Aupuni President Kuhio Asam. “We anticipated that the path would have twists and turns and even some significant obstacles, but we are committed to getting to the ‘Aha where this long-overdue discussion can take place.”

Asam added that the decision was a response to delays caused by ongoing litigation that could span years. The organization has also stated that it will stop the receipt of ballots, and those already received will be sealed and never counted.

“Thus, the Akina litigation, which seeks to stop the counting of the votes, is moot, and Na`i Aupuni will take steps to dismiss the lawsuit,” said Na`i Aupuni attorney William Meheula. “To be clear, Na`i Aupuni does not know and will never learn the election results.”

The organization said it has hired a mediation company to facilitate the `Aha and contact the candidates who want to participate.

Molokai had three candidates on the ballot – Dr. Emmett Aluli, Lori Buchanan and Walter Ritte, though Ritte said he had withdrawn from the race as of last month. None of them returned requests for comment as of the print deadline, so at this time, it is unclear whether they plan to attend.

Aluli said last month he stood by the election process and convention, and urged voters to keep an open mind about the outcome.

Ritte, on the other hand, had denounced the process and called for a boycott of the election.

“It’s rigged, it’s not pono, it’s divisive as hell,” he said of the process last month. He questioned both the validity of Na`i Aupuni to be leading the effort as well as what he calls a “set up” convention and a “continuation of the political powers.”

Some opponents pointed to flaws in the voting process, such as the use of an outdated voter list obtained through the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission over the last decade. Others expressed concern that the `Aha would result in federal recognition of Native Hawaiians with a similar status to American Indian tribes rather than a return to the sovereignty that existed before the overthrow – a difference in goals that divides many Native Hawaiians today.

Moving forward into the convention, some have expressed doubts about any useful outcome.

Hawaii filmmaker and writer Anne Keala Kelly recently published a scathing editorial in the Star Advertiser, calling the process “a circus.”

“How can such an outrageously corrupt process be taken seriously?” she wrote. “Even if they manage to create the illusion of legitimacy with their mockery of a constitutional convention, any outcome will likely be rebuked by the public and invalidated in the courts.”

The confirmation deadline for delegates to participate in the ‘Aha was Dec. 22. Na`i Aupuni stated an email was sent requesting candidates confirm whether they intend to accept the terms and attend the `Aha, which will be held in Kailua, Oahu. This week, the organization will post a list of confirmed delegates on its website, naiaupuni.org.

Asam said a key component of the `Aha is the education and information the delegates will receive during the first week regarding constitution building, federal Indian law, international law regarding de-occupation, decolonization, the rights of indigenous people, U.S. Constitution issues that relate to Native Hawaiian self-governance, the ceded lands claim, background on Hawaiian Home Lands, Kingdom Law and constitutions drafted by sovereignty groups.


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