How Credible was the Statehood Referendum?

 Я считаю, что совершенно неважно, кто и как будет в партии голосовать; но вот что чрезвычайно важно, это – кто и как будет считать голоса.The people who cast votes decide nothing. What matters is who counts the votes and how.

–Joseph Stalin

Some years ago I heard this interesting story by a Hawaiian man about the way the Statehood referendum was held.  His father had been a precinct captain in Pauoa and he said that certain people–both Hawaiian and non-Hawaiians–who were known in the community to oppose Statehood, when they had voted at his precinct their ballots were placed in a special box. When it was time to collect the ballot boxes, men from the US Army carried it away on Army trucks with the keys to the ballot box to ‘Iolani Palace. His father believed that the US Army men destroyed the special “ballot boxes”. When I first heard this story, I thought this was rather fanciful and sounded like a grand conspiracy. I know that there probably was irregularities. John Kealoha, the Lieutenant-Governor under Governor William F. Quinn and brother in law of my grandmother, had remarked to my grandmother that territorial elections were far from “acceptable” and said that the Secretary of the Territory–which was the second highest appointed office in Hawai’i and was replaced by an elected Lieutenant-Govenor after Statehood–had been rigging votes for years. One may recall that in 1960, Kealoha accused Quinn and the Republican Party’s machinery of rigging the US presidential elections in favor of Richard Nixon and ordered a recall.  Kealoha also ran against Quinn–thought they both were Republicans–on an anti-corruption platform.

So the question is, how credible was the Statehood referendum? Its widely known today that in 1946 Hawai’i was listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory and in theory Hawai’i should have been given various political options including independence, free association, Commonwealth, or incorporation. The 1959 referendum only had one option: incorporation.

Statehood Ballot with the Certification of the Secretary of the Territory

However, former governors such as William Quinn and John Burns claimed that they had no idea that they had other options. This is despite the fact that Territorial Senator Abigail Kamokila Campbell and former Governor Ingram Stainback spoke adamantly against Statehood and favored a Commonwealth status similar to Puerto Rico–an option that should have been given to Hawai’i under the UN. Abigail Kamokila Campbell even sued the Territory in 1949 to allocating public funds solely to push for Statehood. But the Commonwealth option was not an option. Certainly, Territorial leaders were aware of how many people were actually in favor of Statehood. They forced not one, but several Statehood referendums. The earliest was in 1935 and continued all the way up until 1959 with the exception of 1941 to 1944 when Martial Law was in effect. All of the statehood referendums failed. The voters–which Native Hawaiians were still a sizable chunk of the electorate–were against it. For example, here is one referendum in 1940 (which failed and note the ballot is written in both Hawaiian and English whereas the 1959 ballot is simply in English):
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Its also interesting that in the 1940 referendum, there was 83,312 registered voters and in 1959, there was 155,000 registered voters though 132,773 actual votes cast. According to official census records, the total population of Hawai’i in 1940 was 422,770 and in 1960 it was 632,772. In other words, the population grew under 30% in those two decades but the registered amount of voters almost doubled. This is despite the fact that the voting age was 21 thus excluding baby-boomers and that the results of the 1940 referendum were not pro-Statehood. It should also be noted that there was some truth to the US Army’s involvement in elections in Hawai’i prior to Statehood.

It would make sense that the US military would “transport” ballot boxes from precincts to ‘Iolani Palace because they had the transportation to, especially given that Hawai’i was still recovering from World War II and that the civilian government had been removed from power for over three long years (1941-1944). US President Dwight Eisenhower, himself once a military governor of occupied West Germany, also made several stops in Hawai’i prior to the Statehood referendum on his way to occupied Japan. Mary Dudziak’s book, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy, explains that that Eisenhower was being pressured by the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and other powers about the US’ human rights records including its colonial possessions of Hawai’i and Alaska. One could conceivably imagine a US president–who had just authorized the 1952 coup against the democratically elected government in Iran–concerned about how propaganda might affect American relations in Europe and Asia would hint to his appointee about the necessity of securing Hawai’i and removing any potential “red” propaganda. It would have also been easy to manoeuvres an election to their preferred outcome as they had control of the ballots, the newspapers, and the Army. 

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