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Office of Hawaiian Affairs Gets Out the Native Hawaiian Vote With 'Hawaiian Voice, Hawaiian Vote' Campaign

Michelle Tirado
10/10/12

A multi-phased campaign spearheaded by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has netted thousands of new registered voters for the state of Hawaii.

OHA kicked off the campaign, “Hawaiian Voice, Hawaiian Vote,” in June, in partnership with the No Vote, No Grumble Coalition, a voter education and mobilization alliance, and Kanu Hawaii, “a movement working to make Hawaii a model of environmental sustainability, compassionate community, and economic resilience,” to increase voter turnout among Native Hawaiians.

The first phase was to register as many voters as possible, especially young adults (ages 18 to 25), according to Joe Lewis, youth engagement coordinator for OHA and the creator of the campaign. It did so at more than 20 outreach events, which included registration drives at concerts and festivals with high Native Hawaiian attendance. Most recently, it held drives at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Convention, held October 1-4 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, and the Good Life Expo for senior citizens, held September 28-30 at the NBC Exhibition Hall in Honolulu.

The campaign was also brought to college campuses. Student volunteers trained to register voters recruited their peers from booths set up in common areas at schools such as Honolulu Community College, Windward Community College, Leeward Community College and the University of Hawaii.

The OHA campaign team did not leave out door-to-door canvassing. In September, Lewis said, it took to the streets in the Native Hawaiian communities in Waianae and Waimanalo, both on Oahu. On October 6, over 60 volunteers were deployed to Papak?lea, another Native Hawaiian community located on Oahu, which, as OHA reports, had a 47 percent turnout rate in last year’s general election.

The second phase, the persuasion campaign, turned on the media blitz. Radio, TV ads featuring football player Kealoha Pilares and entertainer Lehua Kalima began broadcasting in August, with the main message being: “Let your voice be heard.”

“I love the word ‘empowerment,’ because [voting] is a way to empower our people, to have their voice heard,” said Leimomi Khan, chair of the No Vote, No Grumble Coalition.

The campaign is not only about registering voters. “It is actually educating them on the issues, on the candidates that are running,” Lewis said, stressing that it does not tell anyone who to vote for because OHA and its partners do not endorse any candidates. “We are telling Hawaiians to get involved.”

A “Voter Education” web page launched this summer on OHA’s website features video-taped question and answer sessions with candidates running in three key races: the U.S. Senate seat now open with the retirement of Sen. Daniel K. Akaka and two U.S. House Seats. U.S. Senate seat candidates Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Linda Lingle, U.S. House District 1 seat candidates Republican Charles Djou  and Democrat Colleen Hanabusa and U.S. House District 2 candidate Democrat Tulsi Gabbard (GOP candidate Kawika Crowley did not participate) addressed three issues important to Native Hawaiians: federal recognition and challenges of the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act and the Native Hawaiian Education Act.

When ICTM spoke to OHA a couple of days before the registration deadline (October 8), the number registered was about 2,100, but that was not the final tally, as it still had more drives and canvassing to do. The last phase, kicking into gear after the deadline, is mobilizing voters, using contact information that the campaign team collected while registering voters this year and in previous years.

Efforts like these are certainly needed in Hawaii, and not just in Native communities. In the 2010 general election, just 43.1 percent turned out to the polls, according to the U.S. Census.

As to the low rates among Native Hawaiians, Lewis said, “We have to do a better job in getting our Hawaiians interested in voting. I don’t think they see how voting affects them.”

Khan believes turnout in Hawaii, across all race/ethnic groups, is abysmal due in large part to the large number of people who transition to the state from the mainland and foreign areas. “They are not totally vested yet in our islands,” she said. “They don’t know our island culture, but they are learning.”

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