Judge to rule Friday on fate of Native Hawaiian election

Posted: Oct 20, 2015 4:34 AM HSTUpdated: Oct 20, 2015 5:15 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — A federal judge will rule Friday on whether an election for Native Hawaiians is constitutional and can move forward next month.

A group of both Native and non-Native Hawaiians has sued to prevent the election — saying it’s unconstitutional to restrict voting to only Native

But the state argues constitutional protections only apply to government agencies or private entities acting on behalf of the state.

Robert Popper, a Judicial Watch lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the vote is a clear violation of the 15th Amendment.

“You can’t hold a race-based election — and that’s exactly what’s going on,” he said. “Based on our history, if anything is not permitted it’s to screen people based on their race and then decide if they can vote.”

The Na’i Aupuni election is set for Nov. 1, 2015. Native Hawaiians who are registered to vote will have the opportunity to elect delegates who
will then meet at a convention, or ‘aha, next year to discuss and decide what type of nation or government, if any, will be created or reorganized.

Bill Meheula, an attorney for Na’i Aupuni, said: “They sued us under the law that says if we’re going to be a state actor, we have to change state law — and we’re saying we’re not changing state law. What we’re doing is we’re electing delegates, Hawaiian leaders, to come together and decide Hawaiian future in terms of self-determination and we don’t know what that’s going to be.”

The state maintains their involvement was limited to creating the roll of eligible Native Hawaiians, kana’iolowalu, who chould choose to participate
— and has nothing to do with the election itself to determine self-governance.

But Dr. Kelii Akina, president of the Grassroots Institute of Hawai’i and one of the plaintiffs, said the vote affects everyone so shouldn’t be restricted to a particular group.

“We all have the same stake in our lives here together and what’s going on is our right to determine the future excludes people and it’s excluding
people on the basis of race. It’s excluding people who may not hold a political viewpoint,” Akina said.

Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous group in the United States that hasn’t been allowed to establish its own government.

In court Tuesday, before Judge Michael Seabright, both sides argued Na’i Aupuni would be a historic election because it would provide the first chance for self-determination since the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown in 1893.

Seabright says he’ll rule from the bench with an explanation for his decision. He’ll issue a detailed written order later.

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