In 1893, immediately following the coup d’état that deposed Queen Lili‘uokalani, thousands of native Hawaiians formed the Hui Aloha ʻĀina.
The purpose of the organization was to “preserve and maintain, by all legal and peaceful means and measures, the independent autonomy of the islands of Hawaii.” The Hui had both men’s and women’s branches.
In 1893, they reported 7,500 members in the men’s branch, and 11,000 in the women’s branch. From 1893 to 1898, the Hui Aloha ʻĀina, often in coalition with a slightly older organization, the Hui Kālaiʻāina, organized mass meetings, petitions, and citizen testimonies.
In 1897, when the American-identified oligarchy negotiated a new treaty of annexation, the hui, together with Queen Lili’uokalani, organized a massive petition drive protesting the planned annexation. (Silva)
Never-the-less, in 1900, Congress enacted the Organic Act, which set up a territorial government in which the citizens of Hawai‘i were given the right to vote in local elections and to elect a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.
But, as in other territories of the United States, they were not allowed to vote for their governor, or for the President of the United States. Appointments to the judiciary were also made by Washington, DC or by the appointed governor. (Silva)
That all men could now vote meant that Kanaka Maoli could possibly control local politics. With a population around 40,000, they were still the largest group in Hawai’i, except for Japanese immigrants, who were prevented from voting through language and citizenship provisions in the law.
The two organizations then called for a joint mass meeting, on June 9, 1900, to which women as well as men were invited. Kalauokalani, president of Hui Kālaiʻāina, was called on to present the idea to the people.
He first explained that the United States had not and was not likely to begin heeding the demands of the lāhui to restore the Queen.
He went on to say that the only hope was for the people to participate in the government that the United States was handing down to them, through exercising their right to vote. (Silva)
Related to this, Queen Liliʻuokalani wrote a letter (that was published in Ke Aloha ‘Āina, June 9, 1900:) “Aloha to all of you: I did not think that you, the lāhui, were still remembering me, since ten years has passed since I became a Mother for you, the lahui, and now the United States sits in power over me and over you, my dear nation.”
“What has befallen you is very painful to me but it could not be prevented. My mind has been opened (hoohamama ia) because of what the United States has now given to the lāhui Hawaii.
“Here is what I advise – that the people should look to the nation’s leaders, Mr Kaulia [President of the Hui Aloha ‘ʻĀina] and Mr Kalauokalani (President of the Kālaiʻāina Society.]”
“A great responsibility has fallen upon them to look out for the welfare of the lāhui in accordance with the laws that the United States has handed down, to ensure that the people will receive rights and benefits for our and future generations, and I will also derive that one benefit [ie, the welfare of the people.]”
“We have no other direction left, except this unrestricted right [to vote], given by the United States to you the people. Grasp it and hold on to it; it is up to you to make things right for all of us in the future.” (Lili‘uokalani, Ke Aloha ‘Āina, June 9, 1900)
In 1900, the Kanaka Maoli (aboriginal Hawaiians) had formed their own political party, called the Home Rule Party, through merging two organizations, Hui Aloha ʻĀina and Hui Kālaiʻāina. (Silva)
That year, the Home Rulers elected Robert Wilcox as Hawaiʻi’s first delegate to the US Congress. (However, on July 10, 1902, Prince Kūhiō split from the Home Rule Party, joined the Republican Party and won the Congressional seat in the election on November 4, 1902. He served as an elected Republican delegate to Congress until his death (1922.))
Some suggest the early Territorial Legislative elections and party affiliations were based on race (Home Rule for Hawaiians and Republicans for whites.)
However, it’s interesting to note that in 1901, 1903 and 1905 there was successive decline in representation by Home Rule candidates in the Legislature, although there continued to be a total of around 30-Hawaiians (out of 45) in the Legislature.
The next election (1907,) there was only 1-Home Rule party member serving in the Senate, and none in the House; however, a total of 32-Hawaiians were in the Legislature; there were more Hawaiians in the Legislature then, than that first 1901 session.
With Republicans dominating both chambers, it is clear that most of the Hawaiians were Republicans. (While the Home Rule Party was race-based, the Republican Party was not.)
It is evident that native Hawaiians did not need the ‘Home Rule’ race-based political party to get representation in the local or national legislatures. After a decade of election losses, the Home Rule Party was disbanded after the elections of 1912.
However, Hawaiian representation in the Legislature continued to be just under 30 – out of a total of 45 (15-Senators and 30-Representatives.) (Report of Secretary of the Interior)
When Hawai‘i held its first modern election, on January 6, 1851, approximately 13.9% of the population of Honolulu went to the polls. The 1862 election was a high-water mark, with a turnout of 20.9%. Four years later only 1.6% cast ballots.
Another peak was reached in 1887, with 16.7%. Participation rates dropped precipitously during the following decade, and by 1897 less than one percent of the population was voting. The 1862 level was not reached again until after World War II. (Schmitt)
In 1959, when Hawai‘i first became a state, Islands voters were at the top of the nation with 84% for Primary Elections and 93% for the General.
However in looking at the trends, voter participation rates haven’t really improved over the century and a half from Hawai‘i’s first election; Hawai‘i has the lowest voter turnout rate in the nation. (CNN)
To put this into perspective, the best state had well over 75%, while the nation’s average was just 61%. This has been a recurring problem as every year the percentage of voters who participate in elections drops. Hawai‘i has dropped to half of its 1959 participation rate (48% in 2008.) (Nishida)