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Office of Hawaiian Affairs 2022 election: Here's what to expect

Multiple seats on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees are up for election this year. This includes three at-large seats and one seat each for Oʻahu, Maui, and Hawaiʻi Island. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect.
FILE - Candidates for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on the 2022 primary election ballot.
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
FILE - Candidates for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on the 2022 primary election ballot.

OHA Board of Trustees

So, what is OHA anyway? The Office of Hawaiian Affairs grew out of organized efforts in the 1970s to right past wrongs suffered by Native Hawaiians. OHA’s mission is to improve the conditions of Native Hawaiians through a variety of programs and services related to education, health care, housing and more.

OHA is a semi-autonomous state agency funded by income from land taken during the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom — land known as public trust lands. It is governed by a nine-member Board of Trustees elected by all Hawaiʻi residents, and not just Native Hawaiians.

Catherine Cruz/Hawaii Public Radio

Four of the nine positions are designated as at-large seats representing the state as a whole, while the other five trustees represent each of the following districts: Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, Oʻahu, and Kauaʻi and Niʻihau.

Trustees are elected to four-year terms, and there is no limit on the number of terms a trustee may serve.

The Board of Trustees is responsible for setting OHA policy and managing the agency’s endowment, including financial, commercial, and legacy land assets. The board meets regularly at the agency’s headquarters in Honolulu, and at least once annually on each of the major islands.

If you just received your 2022 general election ballot in the mail, are you wondering what the county charter amendment questions mean? HPR's Sabrina Bodon breaks down how they might affect you.

Voting for OHA

Prior to 2000, OHA trustees were elected solely by Native Hawaiian voters in the State of Hawai’i. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2000 Rice v. Cayetano case ruled that restricting voting in these races to Native Hawaiians was unconstitutional.

While voting for OHA candidates may be a right, it’s not a custom. In the 2020 primary election, there were more blank votes cast in OHA races than actual votes. Blank votes and name recognition have been dominant factors in determining the winner.

On the 2022 general election ballot, you will not see OHA races for Maui and Oʻahu. The OHA Trustee for Maui Island, Carmen Hulu Lindsey, ran unopposed and was declared duly and legally elected without appearing on the primary or general election ballots. On Oʻahu, incumbent Kalei Akaka won the primary with over 50% of the votes.

All candidates run statewide elections. No matter where in Hawaiʻi you reside, you can vote for candidates seeking to represent the other islands.

Candidates for OHA in 2022 General Election

Two candidates are running for OHA Trustee for Hawaiʻi Island:

  • Hope A. Cermelj
  • Mililani Trask (incumbent)

In the OHA at-large race, 11 candidates vied for three seats in the primary. The top six candidates moved to the general election.

Six candidates are seeking three at-large trustee seats:

  • Lei Ahu Isa (incumbent)
  • Brickwood Galuteria
  • Sam King
  • Chad Owens
  • Keoni Souza
  • John D. Waiheʻe IV (incumbent)
Leading up to the general election on Nov. 8, HPR will bring you candidate interviews and deep dives on the issues that matter to voters.

Election Resources:

HPR wants to hear from you: How was your voting experience? Let us know at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org or leave a voicemail at 808-792-8217.