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Voting in Hawaiʻi – A Newcomerʻs Guide 2020

Congratulations! You made the big move and are now a resident of the state of Hawaii. This means that if you registered to vote, you should receive your ballot in the mail by October 16, 2020. Mail-in voting will give you a bit of time to research and get up to speed on the candidates and proposals before you vote!

Hawaii County Voter Packet

General Hawaiʻi Voter Information

It is not my intention to tell you who to vote for or what your position should be on any initiatives (well, with the possible exception of the ones related to Hawaii Islandʻs Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Fund). Iʻm going to address a handful of questions I have been asked by buyer clients voting in Hawaiʻi for the first time.

It is too late to register to vote this year if you have not already done so. But if you are a new resident, bookmark the Hawaii State Office of Elections Website for future reference. It is a one-stop source for information about statewide as well as city/county elections, including maps of districts, candidates, and ballot questions, for all counties.

Hawaii County Mayor Debate

Screenshot from one of my favorite Hawaii Island mayoral debates. I loved that the candidates are respectful, at times even affectionate, when they refer to their opponent or their predecessor.

You may notice that our county races are non-partisan. That means that you cannot default to voting a party slate; you actually have to learn more about the candidates and their platforms. There have been numerous candidate forums online in this year of social distancing, as well as the Q&A in local publications like CivilBeat which covers races across the state. I have already seen a lot of conversation on social media this weekend about candidates and charter amendments…so talk to your new neighbors!

All Residents can vote for Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Trustee

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is a public agency providing resources and advocacy for Native Hawaiians. It may seem counter-intuitive that a non-Hawaiian should vote for the Board of Trustees administering an agency whose programs do not directly affect them. However, all residents can indeed cast their votes for OHA Trustees, due to a legal case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court almost twenty years after OHAʻs creation. Even stranger to me is that residents across the state can vote for each islandʻs resident trustee – the assumption that I have a clue about what would best serve residents of other islands.

When my clients and newcomer friends ask me whether they should cast a vote for OHA, I have to say “up to you.” But I am happy to share my own thoughts and personal evolution.

For the first number of years I lived in Hawaiʻi, I did not vote in the OHA Trustee races. I did not feel I could responsibly do so.

Then as I acquired more familiarity with issues of importance to Native Hawaiians and had more Hawaiian friends whose insights and opinions I trusted, I cautiously began to apply the same diligence and criteria I do to other races. What are the leadership qualities you would want in a member of the Board of Trustees of a major organization? What composition of skills and viewpoints will make it a more effective Board, especially in these unprecedented times? What reputation do these candidates have in their home communities?

Please donʻt vote arbitrarily, or as someone told me they do, “for the most Hawaiian-sounding names.” But if you feel you know the candidates and the issues, the stronger the leadership in all our communities, the more we all benefit as residents of Hawaiʻi.

County Charter Amendments – Local Government Matters

During the process of buying a home and moving to Hawaiʻi, the way local government is structured was probably not high on your list of questions. In case you missed it, we have four mayors and councils: the City and County of Honolulu for Oʻahu; Maui County including the islands of Maui, Lanaʻi, and Molokaʻi; Hawaiʻi County “the Big Island”; and Kauai County. Depending on where you live, you will see a different set of Charter Amendment Proposals relating to how your local government functions.

Charter Amendment Proposals 2020

Some of the proposals are really housekeeping matters, like Hawaiʻi County Proposal #1 cleaning up grammatical issues in the Charter. Others have major significance for how the Countyʻs do business, and the yes-or-no vote is not at all easy.

Here are some resources I found online to get you started:

In my mind, voting on charter amendments is civic engagement at its best, so please take the time you need between now and the deadline for returning your ballot (October 27 if you are mailing, 7 pm Election Day if you are dropping off) to get all the information and vote responsibly!

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Tanya Sunshine

October 14, 2020

This was a very helpful Blog.
Thanks, Beth!

Beth Robinson

October 14, 2020

> Thanks, Tanya! Glad you found the info you were looking for.


October 15, 2020

Great blog, I wish that I would have read it BEFORE I voted. Thanks!

Beth Robinson

October 15, 2020

> Hi Julie, glad you are still reading my blogs!

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