Votes cast in an ongoing election for Native Hawaiians can be counted as planned, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. Native Hawaiians are voting to elect delegates for a convention next year to come up with a self-governance document to be ratified by Native Hawaiians. They are the last remaining indigenous group in the United States that hasn’t been allowed to establish its own government. A group of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians are challenging the election. One of their arguments is that it’s unconstitutional for the state to be involved in a race-based election. A federal judge in Honolulu ruled last month that the election may proceed. The challengers appealed and also filed an emergency motion to block the votes from being counted.
The court denied the urgent motion, saying that the challengers couldn’t justify that allowing the count to happen pending the appeal would be harmful, unfair or a matter of public interest.
The ruling allows Nai Aupuni, the organization guiding the election process, to announce the 40 delegates on Dec. 1 as planned. About 89,000 certified Native Hawaiians have until Nov. 30 to vote. About 200 candidates are vying to be delegates representing the Hawaiian islands and Native Hawaiians living on the mainland. The delegates will attend an eight-week convention that starts in February.
“We believe the 9th Circuit correctly rejected the motion,” said Nai Aupuni attorney Bill Meheula. “There’s no guarantee, but it’s a positive indication of how the 9th Circuit might ultimately rule.”