UPDATED 11/06/14 8:40 a.m.

If it had been up to voters on Molokai and Lanai, the Maui County ballot initiative to prohibit GMO farming would have been rejected.

The measure to ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops until the county studies its health impacts squeaked by on Election Day despite majority opposition in two of the county’s three islands.

Now that the bill has been approved, Maui County officials are trying to figure out how to implement it and bracing for a legal challenge. Mayor Alan Arakawa previously derided the proposal as impractical.

Morning staff meeting at Mycogen on Molokai. July 3, 2014

A morning staff meeting at Mycogen Seeds, an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences, on Molokai.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone spent Wednesday afternoon in a meeting trying to determine the best way to enforce the law.

“We are finalizing how much manpower, resources and equipment is needed to carry out this task and once that is done we will need to get council approval for a budget amendment,” Antone wrote in an email.

During a phone interview, Antone said county officials hope to finalize the details before Chief Election Officer Scott Nago certifies the results and the law goes into effect, which could take three weeks.

Antone said the county is expecting a lawsuit from the GMO seed companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences and will defend the law if one is filed. It’s unclear how much that might cost.

Arakawa was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but Managing Director Keith Regan issued a statement assuring Maui County residents that the county is taking the initiative seriously.

“The people have spoken and the county is obligated to carry out their will,” Regan said.

Maui Votes Trump Molokai and Lanai

Countywide, the measure passed 23,082-22,005, a margin of 1,077 votes.

On Molokai, where the seed industry is the island’s biggest economic driver, 63 percent voted “no,” 35 percent “yes,” a difference of 717 votes.

On Lanai, the measure lost 44 percent to 50 percent with a margin of just 49 votes.

It’s not surprising that the initiative was resoundingly opposed on Molokai, where Monsanto is the biggest employer. Many workers fear that the initiative will cost them their jobs.

Here’s the breakdown of votes by island according to data from the State Office of Elections:

Maui County Maui Island Molokai Island Lanai Island
No. of YES Votes 23,082 21,860 864 358
% of YES Votes 50.00% 51% 35% 44%
No. of NO Votes 22,005 20,017 1581 407
% of NO Votes 48% 47% 63% 50%
No. of Blank Votes 872 774 52 46
% of Blank Votes 2% 2% 2% 6%
No. of Over Votes 24 23 1 0
% of Over Votes 0.10% 0.05% 0.04% 0%
Total Votes Cast 45,983 42,674 2,498 811

Given the highly charged measure, voter turnout on Molokai leapt to nearly 60 percent after stagnating around 35 percent in the last two elections.

Meanwhile, statewide voter turnout hit a record low of 52 percent, continuing the downward trend since statehood.

What’s Next?

Monsanto Hawaii vice-president John Purcell said the company will continue to operate on both Maui and Molokai as it seeks to overturn the law in court.

“This initiative has been emotionally hard and exhausting for our employees,” Purcell said. “We are heavily focused today on helping them cope during this difficult time.”

Dow AgroSciences also indicated that it plans to challenge the law.

A lawsuit won’t be surprising given what’s happened elsewhere in Hawaii where GMO regulations have been imposed. Court battles regarding GMO farming bills passed by county councils in Kauai County and Hawaii County last year are ongoing.

Kauai County has spent $166,119 so far defending its GMO and pesticide disclosure law, county spokeswoman Mary Daubert said.

Hawaii County doesn’t have an exact cost estimate because it’s used in-house attorneys to handle two cases in state and federal court challenging its partial GMO farming ban.

But corporation counsel Molly Stebbins said the county has spent about $1,000 on related costs like airfare.

“Attorneys from our office have spent countless hours working on the cases,” Stebbins said.

Both Kauai and Hawaii County have been assisted by the nonprofit organizations Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, which intervened in the cases to defend the counties.

Ashley Lukens from Center for Food Safety said in an email that the organization would do the same for Maui County.

“It is our intention to help defend the law if challenged, but it is our hope that the industry will respect the will of Maui citizens and perform this much-needed assessment,” she wrote.

A previous version of this story misstated the election results in Maui County. It has been updated to reflect the correct numbers.

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