If you live in Hawaii, don’t forget to vote for Office of Hawaiian Affairs candidates

The most important elected Hawaii office you’ve never heard of gets too many blank votes.

WAIKIKI, October 17, 2012 ― If you live in the Hawaiian Islands and you’re registered to vote, you’ve probably already made up your mind on who you’re going to vote for in the big contested races like President, Congress, and your local mayor. But whatever you do, make sure that you don’t forget to also bubble in and choose candidates for Hawaii’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees.

Possibly one of the lesser known (or even understood) statewide offices, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was established in 1978 under Article XII, Section 5 of the State Constitution as a board of nine trustees to “hold all title to the real and personal property now or hereafter set aside or conveyed to it which shall be held in trust for native Hawaiians and Hawaiians.”

Initially both trustee candidacy for OHA and participation in the election of trustees was restricted to “qualified voters, who are Hawaiians, as provided by law” however the later court rulings of 528 U.S. 495 (2000) and 314 F.3d 1091 (9th Cir. 2002) found those provisions to be a violation of the 15th Amendment. Today, anyone who is registered to vote in Hawaii can vote for OHA trustees.

Unfortunately in recent years past, many of the votes for OHA candidates were blank votes. As an example, in the 2010 midterm election, on Oahu – Hawaii’s most populated island – 236,138 votes were cast for resident island trustee, despite the fact that 385,464 people turned out to vote that year (and 690,748 were registered). More people voted blank or didn’t vote at all than actually voted for the winning trustee!

It’s important if you’re registered to vote to actually vote. Don’t skip the OHA races. You have a right to vote for them and democracy works best when everyone votes. I’m reminded of the rebuke of Reader’s Digest columnist William E. Vaughn: “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote.” Whatever you do this year, whatever your political affiliation or worldview might be, remember that the only wasted vote is a failure to vote.

OHA provides on its website a candidate digest in the Election 2012 edition of its Ka Wai Ola Magazine which features statements from each of the trustee candidates, so take a moment to read it over to assist in learning more about the candidates.

With OHA responsible for a budget of roughly $40 million dollars and given care over sensitive issues of both property and the Hawaiian people, it is important that Hawaii voters not skip voting for these offices. At the minimum, look up who’s running for these offices and consider asking your friends who are more politically involved for some insight on which candidate would be best for you.

For a complete list of OHA candidates, download the Hawaii Office of Election’s certified General candidate list by clicking here. So fellow Hawaii Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green or Independent, whoever you may be, you are … make some waves and get out there and vote!

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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