Activists pushing for a moratorium on genetically modified farming in Maui County are stepping up their efforts to gather signatures in advance of a looming deadline.
Members of a nonprofit organization known as the SHAKA Movement have launched a campaign to pay people $5 for each signature collected in support of a citizens initiative. Bruce Douglass, spokesman for the organization, said that the money is intended as a reward and an incentive for the group’s 500 existing volunteers. If the organization gathers 8,500 valid signatures, voters on Maui will be able to decide in November whether to temporarily ban genetically engineered agriculture on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
As part of their effort to ensure that all the signatures are valid, the organization also posted the names and addresses of Maui County’s registered voters online, prompting the state Office of Elections to ask them to remove the information.
The SHAKA Movement’s effort is part of a broader backlash against genetically modified farming in Hawaii, a hotbed for multinational agribusinesses like Monsanto Co. and Syngenta. Hawaii County passed a law last year prohibiting any new genetically engineered crops and Kauai County approved a law requiring biotech companies to abide by certain disclosure rules and pesticide buffer zones.
Monsanto and Dow Agrosciences both operate in Molokai, where Monsanto is the biggest employer. Monsanto also operates on Maui, and farms approximately 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans countywide.
The SHAKA Movement submitted 9,600 signatures to the county in early April, in excess of the 8,500 signature minimum. But the group is continuing to gather names in case many of them are invalidated.
Because the county has 45 days to verify the signatures, Douglass said that the group is expecting a response from the county by May 21 next week and plans to submit its supplemental names by May 23.
Douglass said an anonymous woman from Maui is backing the $5-per-signature campaign, which has a cap of 4,000 signatures or $20,000.
Mark Sheehan, a board member of the SHAKA Movement, said that the organization has collected a total of 14,000 signatures so far.
“We want to make sure that there’s no basis for risking all the work that we’ve done so far just because we fall short,” Sheehan said. “We’re just making one final push.”
But the organization’s growing aggressiveness in obtaining signatures has grabbed the attention of some state and county officials.
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said that the mayor’s office received complaints on Monday after the SHAKA Movement posted the names and addresses of all Maui County registered voters.
Hawaii law only allows registered voters’ names, districts and registration statuses to be published publicly.
The state Office of Elections asked the SHAKA Movement to take down the voter information on Monday after receiving calls from a Maui County official and Sen. Rosalyn Baker from Maui.
Douglass said that the names and addresses of registered voters were never intended to be public and that the link to the information was provided just to volunteers. In response to concerns, the group took down the information.
Maui County attorneys also reviewed the practice of paying people to gather signatures, but found that it is legal, Antone said.
Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the Office of Elections, said that from his perspective, it’s not common to pay people to gather signatures in Hawaii, compared with the mainland.
The SHAKA Movement, which stands for Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina, is a Maui-based organization dedicated to protecting the environment. It was founded earlier this year with the goal of temporarily banning genetically modified farming in Maui County.
Contact Anita Hofschneider via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ahofschneider
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