State House contender born in American Samoa told she's ineligible to run

State House contender born in American Samoa told she's ineligible to run
Updated: Aug. 1, 2018 at 5:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Republican state House candidate born in American Samoa has learned she's ineligible to run for office because she's not a U.S. citizen.

Sai Timoteo said she didn't realize she wasn't allowed to vote or hold office.

She's running for the Leeward Oahu seat vacated by state House Rep. Andria Tupola, a Republican who is running for governor. Timoteo had served in Tupola's office and received her endorsement.

Timoteo's departure from the race means there are no eligible Republicans running for the seat.

It's unclear whether her name will remain on the ballot or whether the state Office of Elections will tell voters she's ineligible.

"Growing up, I learned about our freedoms and always thought I had the same right to participate in our democracy," Timoteo said, in a statement.

"I never knew my ethnicity as an American from American Samoa gave me second-class status and denied me rights that so many Americans take for granted on a daily basis."

Doubts about her eligibility were raised by conservative Republican activist Eric Ryan who said she also broke the law by voting for years.

"That doesn't make you eligible to run in 2018 and that doesn't make it legal for you to be voting in Hawaii elections since 2006," Ryan said.

Unlike those born in other U.S. territories, including Guam and Puerto Rico, American Samoans are considered U.S. nationals under the law. They're not granted the right to vote in U.S. elections or hold office in the United States.

While American Samoans can pursue naturalization, it's a lengthy, expensive process. Those born in American Samoa can claim citizenship if one of their parents is a citizen.

American Samoas have filed legal challenges over the issue, saying it doesn't make sense to treat those born in U.S. territories differently.

Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Shirlene DelaCruz Ostrov declined an on-camera interview with Hawaii News Now on Timoteo's case.

Ostrov said in a statement, though, that Timoteo is a "lifelong American with a U.S. passport" but is being deprived "of her basic democratic rights because of discriminatory, colonial-era laws that give her second-class status as an American."

If Timoteo is formally disqualified, there will be no Republican candidate in that House race.

"The Republicans in Hawaii need all the help that they can get. Andria Tupola's seat was one of the ones they've held, one of the few districts that voted Republican," said University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore.

The state Office of Elections notified Timoteo on July 23 that she was ineligible and gave her five working days to produce information proving that she had been naturalized.

This story will be updated.

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