OHA Encourages first-time native Hawaiian voters

By: Sean Ibara

8 October, 2020

Leading up to the 2020 Primary and General Elections, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) launched a new campaign called Aloha Rising


This campaign, which began in January, focuses on informing and engaging young, first-time Native Hawaiian voters, according to the campaign website. 


“Aloha Rising” comes after years of consistently low voter participation in OHA races. This year, more than 814,000 individuals cast blank votes in the Primary Election.


Over the past decade, the number of blank votes for At-Large Trustee races have increased by nearly 10 percent.


 Incumbent At-Large Trustee Keli’i Akina believes that the responsibility falls on the candidates to inform the public about the importance of voter participation.


“Many voters do not realize that OHA is a state government agency that manages resources in a way that impacts the entire state,” said Akina via an email interview. 


“Additionally, some voters feel that it is inappropriate for non-Hawaiians to vote in the election of trustees for OHA. They may be unaware that many native Hawaiian leaders gladly invite the general population to participate in the selection of qualified trustees,” Akina continued. 


The Aloha Rising website lays out a three-step plan to voting in the upcoming General Election. The first step is voting registration, followed by education through candidate research, and lastly, mailing the ballot. 


The website is also a hub for information about every candidate participating in the 2020 OHA races. There are several different forums involving candidates representing many districts throughout Hawai’i. 


The candidates are no longer able to engage with the community through face-to-face interactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the website offers videos that give voters a chance to get to know them.


Another educational tool on the website is the Aloha Rising Webinar Series. The first instalment of the weekly, one-hour program aired on the Aloha Rising website this past May. 


The Webinar series involves community leaders discussing a wide range of topics relevant to Native Hawaiian culture, and each show ends with a mele, or song, for all participants to join together and sing. 


Maelisha Kahlbaum, a 24-year-old O’ahu resident of Native Hawaiian ancestry, regularly participates in OHA politics. She explained that she thoroughly researches the candidates’ stances before casting her ballot.


“We live in Hawai’i so it’s important to vote for someone who will benefit the people instead of the politicians,” said Kahlbaum. 

A line graph depicting the increase in the percentage of blank votes cast for OHA At-Large elections from 2012 to 2020.  Source: State of Hawai`i Office of Elections 


A January 2020 survey conducted by OHA found that Native Hawaiians are “extremely dissatisfied” with the decisions of elected officials. The survey, which had over 2,700 participants, also found that the five most important issues are affordable homeownership, proper management of land and water resources, Native Hawaiian representation in government, poverty in Hawai’i, and access to Hawaiian Homelands. 


This year, 2020, is the first time that Hawai’i is doing an all-mail-in-ballot system for the primary and general elections. The campaign highlights the importance of making sure that everybody’s current address is registered to ensure that all ballots are received. 

Tags: Office of Hawaiian Affairs, OHA, vote, voter participation, election, 2020, campaign, Aloha Rising