Initiative on GMOs closes in on ballot

The SHAKA Movement is about 3,700 signatures shy of placing a citizens’ initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms in Maui County.

The group has until the end of Tuesday to submit the remaining signatures to the county clerk’s office. However, organizers say they have more than enough to meet the requirement.

“We have another 7,600 signatures counted last night and right now we’re verifying them,” said nonprofit member Mark Sheehan on Thursday.

Sheehan is one of five residents who crafted and filed the initiative supported by the SHAKA (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina) Movement with the county clerk’s office in February.

The initiative requires at least 8,500 signatures from registered voters in Maui County to make the ballot, and last month the group submitted more than 9,700.

However, about half of those were deemed invalid by the county clerk’s office on Wednesday, sighting “duplicate signatures, insufficient or incorrect information and illegible handwriting,” Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo said in an announcement.

Mateo added that some individuals were not registered to vote in Maui County.

“There were so many (signatures) I didn’t know what to make of them so we just had to go through the process to be sure,” Mateo said Thursday.

Of the 5,000 invalid signatures, Sheehan said about 2,600 of them were from unregistered voters and a little more than 1,000 did not give correct addresses.

Sheehan acknowledged that it was “partly our fault” in not providing “enough instruction for the petition gatherers on how important” it is to collect precise and legible information from registered voters.

Dr. Lorrin Pang, another of the five residents with the initiative, expected the large number of invalid signatures, and he was only worried with “how big the gap was going to be.” Pang is the state Department of Health Maui District health officer but is acting as an individual citizen with the initiative.

“I thought maybe up to 50 percent could be mistakes,” he said of the group’s initial submission. “In the next batch there should be less booboos.”

The ratio between valid and invalid signatures for the Maui GMO initiative is fairly consistent with other counties across the state, Mateo said.

At a 48 percent validity rate, it is comparable to petitions received at the Hawaii County Clerk’s Office in 2006 and 2008, where about 45 percent of the signatures were valid.

According to the Maui County Charter on the citizen initiative requirements, each individual signing the petition must provide his or her printed name and place of residence.

The 8,500 signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot is determined by taking 20 percent of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the last mayoral general election.

The SHAKA Movement technically has 20 days to submit the additional signatures, however, group members must turn them in by Tuesday to allow enough time for review by the county clerk’s office and County Council, in order to reach the ballot in November.

After the additional signatures are submitted on Tuesday, the county clerk’s office has 10 days to verify them. If the initiative has the required number, it is forwarded to the County Council, which has 60 days to take action. If council members do not pass the initiative, then it is prepared for the November ballot.

Carol Reimann, Maui community and government affairs manager for biotechnology corporation Monsanto, said in an email Thursday that the initiative is “misguided” and would “severely damage our local economy, jeopardize hundreds of jobs on Maui and Molokai, and create a painful ripple effect on other businesses and families in our county.”

“Together with local agricultural businesses, employees and supporters of farming in Maui County, Monsanto Hawaii stands in strong opposition to this harmful initiative,” Reimann said. “We’d like to urge voters to consider the serious and negative impacts that this initiative would have on hundreds of local families and our agricultural economy, and decline to sign this petition.”

Bruce Douglas, spokesman for SHAKA Movement, said that volunteers continued gathering signatures at locations across Maui, and he was happy with the sheer number they had already collected.

“It’s a pretty strong statement of the will of the people,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get another 2,000 so we’ll be well over the mark.”

For more information on the Maui County Charter, go to

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at