HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An upcoming election for Native Hawaiians may be stopped because of a recent lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the racially-exclusive election violates the United States constitution.
"We're very confident, at least our attorneys are confident, that the lawsuit will be successful," said Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President and CEO Dr. Kelii Akina.
The plaintiffs include Akina, three other Native Hawaiians and two non-Hawaiians. They are suing the state, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and Native Hawaiian Roll saying race-based elections violate First Amendment rights.
"This process set up by OHA and the Native Hawaiian Roll not only excludes all non-Hawaiians, it excludes almost 80-percent of all Hawaiians. So it's really all about an extremely tiny number of people making significant decisions about the future of the State of Hawaii," Akina said.
The roll Akina is talking about is, Kanaiolowalu, a list of Native Hawaiians who want a say in some future form of government.
Since 2012, that list has come up with about 122,000 names. There are nearly 290,000 Native Hawaiians who live in the state.
John Waihee, former governor and roll commission chairman, is busy planning for the election to select delegates to a convention.
"This election is being conducted by Native Hawaiians for Native Hawaiians as a private exercise of organizing and assembling ourselves, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution," Waihee said.
"I don't even understand the position of the Grassroot Institute who talks about upholding American values and yet would deny Native Hawaiians one of the values," said Waihee.
Waihee said the Hawaiians-only election and convention are necessary to help the Hawaiian people establish and protect Native Hawaiian programs and institutions, such as Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiian homes. He believes there is no legal basis for the lawsuit.
"It's not something that makes me happy. But I also think it's misguided and that at the end result of all of this is probably gonna be a stronger Native Hawaiian community," he said.
OHA declined to comment pending litigation.