A group of Maui County residents and organizations are suing in an attempt to stop a county voter initiative to ban GMO farming from appearing on the November ballot.
The Molokai Chamber of Commerce and a group called Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban filed the lawsuit on Friday in 2nd Circuit Court along with seven individuals.
The defendants include Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo and Hawaii Office of Elections Chief Scott Nago. Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state Office of Elections, said the agency had no comment on pending litigation. Mateo could not be reached for comment.
Monsanto fields on Molokai. The island of Lanai is seen in the background.
The ballot initiative would impose a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered crops until the county studies their impact on the environment and public health. It’s the first citizens’ initiative to be placed on the ballot in the county’s history.
Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban has been flooding the airwaves to convince voters to reject the ban.
Now, their lawsuit alleges the title of the initiative — “Genetically Engineered Organisms” — is “deceptive and misleading, and if allowed to remain, would prevent the electorate from casting informed ballots.”
Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, spokesman for Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, complained about the title late last month, calling it “confusing.”
The group behind the ballot initiative, the SHAKA Movement, was also unhappy with the wording. The organization’s spokesman Bruce Douglas said that he would prefer that the word “moratorium” be included in the ballot title. But he dismissed the idea that a lawsuit was warranted.
“We don’t believe they have any grounds,” Douglas told Civil Beat.
The plaintiffs are seeking to push the bill to the November 2016 election, as well as change its title to “MAUI: Voter initiative: prohibiting cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms.”
The lawsuit cites an Aug. 29 blog post from Civil Beat describing both camp’s dislike of the title, which written by the Maui County Clerk’s office.
The plaintiffs also say the Maui County Clerk didn’t submit the ballot initiative on time to the state Office of Elections.
Individual plaintiffs include Alfonso Taal, Prelina Taal, Mercer “Chubby” Vicens, Harold Keyser, Paul Singleton, Robert Stephenson and Kimo Falconer.