Four Native Hawaiians and two non-Hawaiians filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu seeking to block a “race-based” and “viewpoint-based” election planned this fall as a step toward establishing a sovereign Hawaiian government. The lawsuit, which was filed against the state of Hawaii, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees and other “agents of the state,” argues that the election violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by using race and political qualifications to determine voter eligibility. The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission recently published a list of 95,000 Native Hawaiians eligible to vote for delegates later this year to a governance aha, or constitutional convention to be held next year. The election is being overseen by an independent group, Na‘i Aupuni, which is funded by OHA grants through the Akamai Foundation.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Keli‘i Akina, Kealii Makekau, Joseph Kent, Yoshimasa Sean Mitsui, Pedro Kana‘e Gapero and Melissa Leina‘ala Moniz. They are represented by Michael Lilly, a former state attorney general, who brought the suit on behalf of Judicial Watch, a nonprofit.
According to the suit, Akina and Makekau, both Native Hawaiian, are excluded from the roll because they cannot affirm the political declaration required for registration. Along with proving Native Hawaiian ancestry, registrants must “affirm the unrelinquished sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people and my intent to participate in the process of self-governance.”