Now that’s what I call an election. And yes, the voter initiative to bring about a “moratorium” on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the county passed.
It was a real nail-biter, too. The first batch of votes (released around 7:30 or so) showed the initiative failing by nearly 20 percentage points. But when the state Office of Elections finally published the final summary report of votes (nearly 1:30am), it was clear the initiative had passed–by just a couple percentage points, but hey–a victory’s a victory. There were also virtually no blank votes (just 872, with more than 44,000 votes cast either for or against the measure), meaning Maui County is profoundly divided over the issue.
For the SHAKA Movement and the rest of the grass roots effort that backed the initiative, this is an historic victory. Facing a massively financed No effort–the nearly $8 million spent by Monsanto and Dow to defeat the measure amounted the most expensive political campaign in Hawaii history–the pro initiative crowd came through with votes.
Indeed, Maui County showed unusually good turnout–52.7 percent, in fact, which easily topped the 49.7 percent of the electorate that showed up for the last midterm elections, which happened in 2010. The county’s turnout figure was even higher than the state overall, which came in at 52.3 percent.
Having said all that, there’s no surprise in what happens next. “We believe this referendum is invalid and contrary to long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants,” said John P. Purcell, PhD, a Monsanto Hawaii Vice President, in an email sent out to the press barely six hours after the election was over. “If effective, the referendum will have significant negative consequences for the local economy, Hawaii agriculture and our business on the island. We are committed to ongoing dialogue as we take steps to ask the court to declare that this initiative is legally flawed and cannot be enforced. Monsanto and other allied parties will be joining together in this effort.”
Given the nature of the initiative itself–this paper, Honolulu Civil Beat, The Maui News, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa and a host of community and labor organizations opposed the measure in large part because it’s vague, poorly written and (in our opinion) based on fear-mongering instead of science–a lawsuit in the event of victory was almost a foregone conclusion.
Photo of 2012 Monsanto protest in Kihei: Viriditas/Wikimedia Commons