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Native Hawaiian leaders gather in Honolulu to encourage voter participation

Courtesy Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Some voters have not wasted any time getting their ballots in. On opening day for Voter Service Centers, members of eight Native Hawaiian groups, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, held the “Walk to the Box” voter drive.

They marched from ʻIolani Palace to Honolulu Hale on Monday to cast their votes and encourage others to do the same. After depositing their ballots, they gathered for an oli and a sign waving.

"Vote according to your values. Vote for the people whose values reflect what you want to see on this land, what you want to see in our waters, what you want to see in our classrooms, and what you want to see in every government building," said Kauʻi Burgess, the Director of Community and Government Relations at Kamehameha Schools.

Burgess’ message is not lost on her students. Joshua Ching, a 2022 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, is ready to participate in his first election.

“I am beyond excited to actually fill out a ballot and cast it,” he told The Conversation. "Land and water rights, public safety, public health, our criminal justice system — I think those are all things to keep in mind."

But many of the young people at the voter drive are still too young to vote. Addis Belay, a sophomore at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, said she still came to the voter drive “because it’s so important for ʻōpio voices to be heard.”

“Even though we cannot vote,” Belay said, “the impact of the vote and the decisions that lawmakers make will still impact us."

"We will still have to face the consequences of their actions. So it's important that they hear our voice. Even if we cannot vote for them, they need to know that we are here," Belay said.

Her classmate, Angelina Star Kekina Woo, agrees. She wants legislators to pay extra attention to policies regarding the land and water.

“Those two things were huge to the Hawaiian people," Woo said. "It should be a huge issue that we should talk about inside of our Legislature."

As an educator, Burgess prioritizes teaching young people like Ching, Belay and Woo the importance of civic engagement.

“We're here to ensure that the next generation, our students, the keiki are engaging,” she said. “We want to make sure that they are aware of the importance of their voice because they are the future, they are the next leaders.”

Voter service centers offering same-day registration and in-person voting opened Monday. Voting ends at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 2, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Emily Tom is a temporary digital news producer for summer 2023. She previously interned with HPR in summer 2022.
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