Complaints have surfaced about a SHAKA Movement effort to gather thousands of voters' names on a petition seeking a citizens' initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms in Maui County.
SHAKA Movement spokesman Bruce Douglas said that the criticism is being used by pro-GMO forces to divert attention from the group's aim to seek a temporary halt to GMO cultivation in Maui County until an environmental and public health impact study can be done to ensure that "agrochemical practices are safe to the environment, our citizens and to the aina for current and future generations."
News website Honolulu Civil Beat broke the story Monday, reporting that members of the nonprofit SHAKA Movement (SHAKA stands for Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina) had launched a campaign to pay people $5 for each signature collected in support of the citizens' initiative. And it reported that the group posted online the names and addresses of Maui County registered voters, leading to the state Office of Elections asking SHAKA to remove the information.
Douglas said that the voter information was posted online for use by the group's petitioners only.
"Rest assured that voters' personal information was never at any time made available to the public," he said. "The ability to verify voters' addresses for the purpose of assisting voters to sign the petition with their correct registered address was made available only to our registered petitioners through a private nonpublic URL in the backdoor of our website."
The group's use of the voter data, intended only for use by its petitioners, is a "legal use," and the list was purchased in February from the Maui County Clerk for $50, he said.
Nevertheless, there were reports of online leaks of private voter information.
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said Tuesday that he had received three or four complaints and that he, himself, tried the online link and found his as well as other public officials' personal voter information online.
"I found it disconcerting," he said.
Antone said he understood that SHAKA was trying to make sure it has valid names on its petition (the group needs nearly 8,500 and reportedly already has more than enough names to get its initiative on the ballot), but under state law only a person's name, district precinct and voter status can be released publicly.
"I don't think this was a deliberate attempt to not obey the laws," he said. "I think they made a mistake, and they corrected it very quickly."
Antone noted that the link to voter information was taken down Monday afternoon.
West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker said that she received a few complaints about the exposure of voter information online, but she did not complain about the petition itself.
"They have a right to conduct a petition drive to obtain signatures for their ballot initiative," she said. Instead, "I was concerned about the extent of voter registration information on their site."
"Voter registration information should not be used to intimidate or pressure voters or potential voters," she said.
Baker pointed out that candidates who want access to voter registration lists for their districts must affirm that they will not misuse the information by revealing data that's not public information, such as a voter's residence's address.
"I've had law enforcement and others in sensitive positions tell me they did not want their residence information revealed," she said. "I was concerned about safety and also I was afraid that the action of posting the information in a searchable database on a publicly accessible website might actually serve to depress voter registration."
Baker said that she inquired about the situation with the Maui County Clerk, the state Office of Elections and the Department of the Attorney General. She said she was pleased the link to the voter information was taken down.
Carol Reimann, Maui community and government affairs manager for biotechnology corporation Monsanto, provided a computer screen shot (with voter information obscured) of the SHAKA Movement's website that showed voter information.
"They have since removed the information from their website," she said, but she added that she understood people who pulled up the information before it was removed are still able to retrieve data because it had been cached in their computers.
"What is posted on the Internet is not always totally retractable," she said.
When asked to explain how unauthorized people were able to gain access to the SHAKA Movement's voter information, Douglas said it was the work of pro-GMO hackers.
"They've been hacking our computers," he said. "They have their snoops. They have their spies."
Douglas said the criticism is part of a larger effort to taint the SHAKA Movement's initiative campaign. He said it was enlightening that pro-GMO bloggers had the Civil Beat story before it was posted by the news website.
"This was carefully orchestrated," he said, calling pro-GMO bloggers, "paid professionals."
"It's going to be one of many smear campaigns that will be done to try to discredit the (SHAKA) organization," he said, adding that it was trying to distract people from the real issues - pesticides and genetically modified organisms.
Reimann said that Monsanto officials also have received comments from people in the community questioning the ethics of paying for signatures.
"It feels like a bribe and seems highly inappropriate," she said.
Douglas said the $5 payment for signatures was the result of an "angel donor," a part-time Maui resident, who wanted to reward volunteer petitioners who've been taking time off of work and hiring babysitters to collect signatures from voters. There's a cap of 4,000 signatures, or $20,000, he said. And the offer is only for current petitioners "as a reward for their great work," he added.
"She has offered to donate to our currently registered petitioners $5 for each valid signature they acquire during the last 10 days of our signature collection campaign," he said. "Her intention is to give back to the givers, the volunteer petitioners who have selflessly given of their time and energy."
The group has 500 registered petitioners, with about 200 who are "particularly active," Douglas said.
The final date for the group to turn in signatures is May 23, Douglas said.
According to the Maui County Charter, a citizens' initiative needs to be signed by at least 20 percent of the total voters who cast ballots in the last mayoral election. Voter turnout for that mayoral election was 42,322. Twenty percent of that would be 8,465.
SHAKA's goal is to get 16,000 names on its petition to ensure that the initiative gets on the ballot, Douglas said. So far, 12,000 to 13,000 signatures have been obtained, he said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.