Thirty-seven years ago, former House Minority Leader and OHA Trustee Kinaʻu Boyd Kamali’i wrote an article in OHA’s Ka Wai Ola newspaper titled, “The Significance of the Hawaiian Vote.”

In the article, Kamali’i reflected on Hawaii politics and the influence that Native Hawaiians had in government at the time.

The article also highlighted the large number of Native Hawaiians holding key leadership positions in Congress, the state Senate, the state House of Representatives, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court

Kamaliʻi explained that Native Hawaiians voters “represented a crucial swing vote that could have been the margin for winning or losing an election.” She said that “if motivated and mobilized … Hawaiians could decide major elections.”

Large Hawaiian Flag flies on mauka side of Thomas Square near Kamehameha III dedication ceremonies held on July 31, also celebrated as Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, Sovereignty Restoration Day, an official national holiday of the kingdom of Hawaii.

A Hawaiian flag flies on the mauka side of Thomas Square.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Where Are We Today?

Today, Hawaii consistently ranks last in voter turnout compared to the national average. In 1982, voter turnout in Hawaii for the general election was 80.4 percent. In 2016, the turnout was 58.4 percent.

Many point to Hawaii’s one-party system as a possible reason for the low voter turnout. With Democrats having a super majority in both chambers of the state Legislature and a firm control on Hawaii’s congressional delegation, many races are decided in the primary elections; giving little reason to vote in the general during non-presidential election years.

Others point to the lack of incentive to run for public office as another reason because many feel that “it’s the same people getting elected every year.”

For Native Hawaiians, the statistics are even worse.

Since the Rice v. Cayetano case in 2000, there is no clear data on how many Native Hawaiians are actually voting.

With the lack of voter engagement in Hawaii’s political processes, Native Hawaiians are not viewed as a major voting bloc by political candidates. This is evident during election years where many are out campaigning at various community events that are targeted to certain ethnic groups that have a high voter turnout.

This same notion was expressed by Kumu Hula Nāpua Greig in her Aug. 5 Facebook Live post where she says that “there is a reason why our politicians are at the Miss Maui Filipina and not at Hoʻomau…. There are voting blocs (ethnic communities) that they know vote….”

At the state Legislature, Native Hawaiians are also very underrepresented with only four Native Hawaiians in the state Senate and seven in the state House of Representatives. There are zero Native Hawaiians in Congress and zero on the state Supreme Court.

As Hawaii’s third largest-ethnic group, with over 250,000 people (about 180,000 voting age individuals) identifying as part-Native Hawaiian, we have the capacity to increase our political influence and become a major voting bloc.

However, to reach that potential, we as Native Hawaiians need to begin engaging in the political process and turn out at the polls.

The Hawaiian Kingdom

I know that there are many in our community who refuse to participate in the elections because they believe that doing so would be a violation of the belief that the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists. Others view voting as an act of treason.

Given our tragic history of past injustices, I sympathize with those who share the aforementioned beliefs. But the fact of the matter is that whether you believe in the existence of a Hawaiian Kingdom or not,  our political reality, at least for the time being, is that of the current political system.

I view Native Hawaiian participation in this arena not as an act of treason, but as an act of survival.

We are plagued by socio-economic disparities that continue to have a negative impact on our lāhui. We are continually fighting for the perpetuation of our language and culture; and the protection of our lands and natural resources. Something needs to be done and I refuse to accept the status quo.

Our participation in the political and electoral processes will be key in garnering the influence needed to advance our efforts. With more Native Hawaiians elected to public office, we will be able to better address issues that are important to our community, such as Mauna Kea and the Thirty Meter Telescope. 

Kinaʻu Boyd Kamaliʻi shares that “the greatest significance of the Hawaiian vote… is the opportunity it offers to use the political process as a means of defining and achieving our own dreams for the future.”

Like many others in our community, I too dream of one day being able to witness the restoration of our Hawaiian Nation.

But there is still much work ahead of us. We need to increase the political engagement of our people, vote to elect qualified Native Hawaiians to serve in public office, gain the influence needed within the current government structure and continue to educate the next generation of leaders.

We also need to look into our past and find inspiration from individuals, such as Prince Kūhiō and John Lane, who were staunch kingdom royalists that later dominated early territorial politics in Hawaii.

ʻAʻole o kākou kuhina aku i koe, koe wale aʻe lā no kēia pono ʻākea i hāʻawi ʻia mai e Amerika iā ʻoukou ka lāhui, e hopu a paʻa, a na ʻoukou e hoʻoponopono no kākou no keia mua aku.

There is no other option left, all that remains is this public benefit which was given by America to you the lāhui, grab hold of it, it is up to you to make things right for all of us for the future.

— Liliʻuokalani, 1900

Their advocacy for the lāhui did not stop in 1898 with their protest of annexation, it continued into the territorial era where they fully participated in local politics to ensure that the rights of our people would be protected.

For us not to participate in the political process, yet alone vote in the upcoming election, would be a disservice to their efforts to seek justice for the lāhui.

Whether you identify as a Democrat, Republican or a Hawaiian National, I encourage all Native Hawaiians to get out and vote (even if it is under duress). Political change for our lāhui won’t happen if we don’t take the important first step of having our voices heard at the polls.

No laila, ʻauhea ʻoukou e ka poʻe ʻōiwi o kēia pae ʻāina, mai ka moku o Keawe a hiki i Niʻihau o Kahelelani, e koho pāloka kākou ma ka lā 11 o ʻAukake!

To all Hawaiians of this land, from Hawaii to Niihau, vote on Aug. 11!

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