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Monday, April 17, 2000

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State seeks
advice on OHA

In the Rice decision's wake,
questions linger on voter
registration and ballots

By Pat Omandam


The state Office of Elections is seeking legal advice on how to handle the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections, now that all Hawaii registered voters can elect trustees.

Among the questions that linger from the Rice vs. Cayetano decision are whether voters will still have to register separately for OHA elections and whether there will continue to be a separate OHA ballot to fill out.

State chief elections officer Dwayne D. Yoshina is awaiting word from the state attorney general's office on how to proceed following the Feb. 23 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state's Hawaiians-only election.

"We're pushing at our end to find out," Yoshina said last week. "We're working with the AG's office to get some decision made."

Along with voter registration issues, the office seeks guidance on whether non-Hawaiians are permitted to run for OHA. Although the Rice decision did not address this issue, the state has sought a legal opinion on the matter.

The deadline for candidates to file nomination papers to run for OHA is Sept. 8. As it stands, at least four of the nine seats will be up for election this November.

Last month, OHA and the state filed a joint motion with the Hawaii Supreme Court to seek clarification on whether the Rice decision created any immediate vacancies on the board and, if there are vacancies, who is authorized to fill them.

Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina confirmed that the elections office has asked for legal advice, but she could not say when it would be ready.

"I'd like to think it would be very soon," Aina said, "but that's about as precise as I can be."

Nevertheless, the state Legislature has tried to address the issue by granting tentative approval to a Senate bill specifying that OHA trustee candidates must be of Hawaiian descent. Lawmakers said reserving trustee candidacy to those of Hawaiian descent is consistent with the state Constitution and is in the best interest of beneficiaries of OHA's trust.

The measure, supported by the attorney general's office and OHA, now awaits a final vote by both chambers before being sent to Gov. Ben Cayetano for approval or veto.

The terms of four trustees expire this year; the remaining five, in 2002.

Bullet U.S. Public Law 103-150
Bullet OHA Ceded Lands Ruling
Bullet Rice vs. Cayetano
Bullet U.S. Supreme Court strikes down OHA elections
Bullet Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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