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The inverted Hawaiian flag represents the Hawaiian Kingdom in distress and is the main symbol of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement
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The Hawaiian sovereignty movement (Hawaiian: ke ea Hawaiʻi) is a grassroots political and cultural campaign to gain sovereignty, self-determination and self-governance for Hawaiians of whole or part Native Hawaiian ancestry with an autonomous or independent nation or kingdom. Some groups also advocate some form of redress from the United States for the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani, and for what is described as a prolonged military occupation beginning with the 1898 annexation. The movement generally views both the overthrow and annexation as illegal. Palmyra Island and the Stewart Islands were annexed by the Kingdom in the 1860s and are regarded by the movement as being under illegal occupation along with the Hawaiian Islands. The Apology Resolution passed by the United States Congress in 1993 acknowledged that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 was an illegal act.
Sovereignty advocates have attributed problems plaguing native communities including homelessness, poverty, economic marginalization, and the erosion of native traditions to the lack of native governance and political self-determination. They have pursued their agenda through educational initiatives and legislative actions. Along with protests throughout the islands, at the capitol itself as well as the places and locations held as sacred to Hawaiian culture, sovereignty activists have challenged United States forces and law.
Coinciding with other 1960s and 1970s indigenous activist movements, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement was spearheaded by Native Hawaiian activist organizations and individuals who were critical of issues affecting modern Hawaii, including urbanization and commercial development of the islands, corruption in the Hawaiian Homelands program, and the appropriation of native burial grounds and other sacred spaces. During the 1980s the movement gained cultural and political traction and native resistance grew in response to urbanization and native disenfranchisement. Local and federal legislation provided some protection for native communities but did little to quell expanding commercial development.
In 1993, a joint congressional resolution apologized for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, and said that the overthrow was illegal. In 2010, the Akaka Bill passed, which provided a process for US federal recognition of Native Hawaiians and gave ethnic Hawaiians some control over land and natural resource negotiations. However, the bill was opposed by sovereignty groups because of its provisions that legitimized illegal land transfers, and was criticized by a 2006 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report (which was later reversed in 2018) for the effect it would have on non-ethnic Hawaiian populations. A 2005 Grassroot Institute poll found the majority of Hawaiian residents opposed the Akaka Bill.
The ancestors of Native Hawaiians may have arrived in the Hawaiian Islands around 350 CE, from other areas of Polynesia. By the time Captain Cook arrived, Hawaii had a well-established culture with a population estimated to be between 400,000 and 900,000 people. Starting in 1795 and completed by 1810, Kamehameha I conquered the entire archipelago and formed the unified Kingdom of Hawaii. In the first one hundred years of contact with Western civilization, due to disease and war, the Hawaiian population dropped by ninety percent, to only 53,900 people in 1876. American missionaries would arrive in 1820 and assume great power and influence. Despite formal recognition of the Kingdom of Hawaii by the United States and other world powers, the kingdom was overthrown beginning January 17, 1893, with a coup d'état orchestrated by, mostly, Americans within the kingdom's legislature, with aid from the United States military.
The Blount Report is the popular name given to the part of the 1893 United States House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee Report regarding the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The report was conducted by U.S. Commissioner James H. Blount, appointed by U.S. President Grover Cleveland to investigate the events surrounding the January 1893 coup. This report provides the first evidence that officially identifies the United States' complicity in the overthrow of the government of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Blount concluded that U.S. Minister to Hawaii John L. Stevens had, in fact, carried out unauthorized partisan activities that included the landing of U.S. Marines under a false or exaggerated pretext to support anti-royalist conspirators; the report went on to find that these actions were instrumental to the success of the revolution and that the revolution was carried out against the wishes of a majority of the population of the Hawaiian Kingdom and/or its Royalty.
On December 14, 1893, Albert Willis arrived unannounced in Honolulu aboard the USRC Corwin, bringing with him an anticipation of an American invasion in order to restore the monarchy, which became known as the Black Week. Willis was the successor to James Blount as United States Minister to Hawaii. With the hysteria of a military assault, he staged a mock invasion with the USS Adams and USS Philadelphia, directing their guns toward the capital. He also ordered rear admiral John Irwin to organize a landing operation using troops on the two American ships, which were joined by the Japanese Naniwa and the British HMS Champion. On January 11, 1894, Willis revealed the invasion to be a hoax. After the arrival of the Corwin, the provisional government and citizens of Hawaii were ready to rush to arms if necessary, but it was widely believed that Willis' threat of force was a bluff.
On December 16, the British Minister to Hawaii was given permission to land marines from HMS Champion for the protection of British interests; the ship's captain predicted that the Queen and Sovereign ruler (Liliuokalani) would be restored by the U.S. military. In a November 1893 meeting with Willis, Liliuokalani indicated that she wanted the revolutionaries punished and their property confiscated, despite Willis' desire for her to grant amnesty to her enemies. In a December 19, 1893, meeting with the leaders of the provisional government, Willis presented a letter written by Liliuokalani, in which she agreed to grant amnesty to the revolutionaries if she was restored as queen. During the conference, Willis told the provisional government to surrender to Liliuokalani and allow Hawaii to return to its previous condition, but the leader of the provisional government, President Sanford Dole, refused to comply with his demands, claiming that he was not subject to the authority of the United States.
The Blount Report was followed in 1894 by the Morgan Report, which contradicted Blount's report by concluding that all participants except for Queen Liliʻuokalani were "not guilty".:648 U.S. Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham announced on January 10, 1894, that the settlement of the situation in Hawaii would be left up to Congress, following Willis' unsatisfactory progress. Cleveland said that Willis had carried out the letter of his directions, rather than their spirit. Domestic response to Willis' and Cleveland's efforts was largely negative. The independent New York Herald wrote, "If Minister Willis has not already been ordered to quit meddling in Hawaiian affairs and mind his own business, no time should be lost in giving him emphatic instructions to that effect." The Democratic New York World wrote: "Is it not high time to stop the business of interference with the domestic affairs of foreign nations? Hawaii is 2000 miles from our nearest coast. Let it alone." The Democratic New York Sun said: "Mr. Cleveland lacks ... the first essential qualification of a referee or arbitrator." The Republican New York Tribune called Willis' trip a "forlorn and humiliating failure to carry out Mr. Cleveland's outrageous project." The Republican New York Recorder wrote, "The idea of sending out a minister accredited to the President of a new republic, having him present his credentials to that President and address him as 'Great and Good Friend,' and then deliberately set to work to organize a conspiracy to overthrow his Government and re-establish the authority of the deposed Queen, is repugnant to every man who holds American honor and justice in any sort of respect." The Democratic New York Times was one of the few New York newspapers that defended Cleveland's decisions, saying that "Mr. Willis discharged his duty as he understood it."
Following the overthrow, in 1894 the Provisional Government of Hawaii became the Republic of Hawaii, and in 1898 the Republic of Hawaii was annexed by the United States in the Newlands Resolution, becoming the Territory of Hawaii. The territory was then given a territorial government in an Organic Act in 1900. While there was much opposition to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and many attempts to restore the kingdom, it became a territory of the US in 1898, without any input from Native Hawaiians. Hawaii became a US state on March 18, 1959, following a referendum in which at least 93% of voters approved of statehood. By then, most voters were not Native Hawaiian. The 1959 referendum did not have an option for independence from the United States. Following Hawaii's admission as a state, the United Nations removed Hawaii from its list of non-self-governing territories (a list of territories that are subject to the decolonization process).
The US constitution recognizes Native American tribes as domestic, dependent nations with inherent rights of self-determination through the US government as a trust responsibility, which was extended to include Eskimos, Aleuts and Native Alaskans with the passing of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Through enactment of 183 federal laws over 90 years, the US has entered into an implicit—rather than explicit—trust relationship that does not give formal recognition of a sovereign people having the right of self-determination. Without an explicit law, Native Hawaiians may not be eligible for entitlements, funds and benefits afforded to other US indigenous peoples. Native Hawaiians are recognized by the US government through legislation with a unique status. Proposals have been made to treat Native Hawaiians as a tribe similar to Native Americans; opponents to the tribal approach argue that it is not a legitimate path to nationhood.
The Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry (ALOHA) and the Principality of Aloha were organized sometime in the late 1960s or '70s when the Native Alaskan and American Indian activism was beginning. Native Hawaiians began organizing groups based on their own national interests such as ceded lands, free education, reparations payments, free housing, reform of the Hawaiian Homelands Act and development within the islands. According to Budnick, the group was established by Louisa Rice in 1969. Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell claims that it was organized in the summer of 1972.
ALOHA sought reparations for Native Hawaiians by hiring a former US congressman to write a bill that, while not ratified, did spawn a congressional study. The study was only allowed six months and was accused of relying on biased information from a historian hired by the territorial government that overthrew the kingdom as well as US Navy historians. The commission assigned to the study recommended against reparations.:61
Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi was formed in 1987 as a local grassroots initiative for Hawaiian sovereignty. Mililani Trask was the first leader of the organization. Trask was elected the first kiaʻaina (governor) of Ka Lahui. The organization has a constitution, elected offices and representatives for each island. The group supports US Federal recognition and its independence from the United States:38 and supports inclusion of Native Hawaiians in federal Indian policy.:62 The organization is considered the largest sovereignty movement group, claiming a membership of 21,000 in 1997. One of its goals is to reclaim ceded lands. In 1993, the group led 10,000 people on a march to the Iolani Palace on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.
Ka Lāhui and many sovereignty groups oppose the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 (known as the "Akaka Bill") proposed by Senator Daniel Akaka that begins the process of federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian government, where the US State Department would have government-to-government relations with the US. The group believes that there are concerns with the process and version of the bill. Although Ka Lāhui may oppose the Akaka Bill, its founding member, Mililani Trask, supported the original Akaka Bill and was a member of a group that crafted the original bill. Trask has been critical of the bill's 20-year limitation on all claims against the US, stating: "We would not be able to address the illegal overthrow, address the breach of trust issues." and "We're looking at a terrible history.... That history needs to be remedied."
Kekuni Blaisdell, leader of the organization, is a medical doctor and Founding Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi John Burns School of Medicine, who advocates for the independence of Hawaii. The group began in the late 1980s as the Pā Kaukau coalition along with Blaisdell and others to supply information that could support the sovereignty and independence movement.
Blaisdell and the 12 groups that comprise the Ka Pākaukau, believe in a "nation-within-a-nation" concept as a start forward to independence and are willing to negotiate with the President of the United States as "representatives of our nation as co-equals."
In 1993, Blaisdell convened Ka Hoʻokolokolonui Kanaka Maoli, the "People's International Tribunal", which brought indigenous leaders from around the world to Hawaii to put the U.S. Government on trial for the theft of Hawaii's sovereignty, and other related violations of international law. The tribunal found the U.S. guilty, and published its findings in a lengthy document filed with the U.N. Committees on Human Rights and Indigenous Affairs.
The Nation of Hawaiʻi is the oldest Hawaiian independence organization. It is headed by Dennis Puʻuhonua "Bumpy" Kanahele, who is the group's spokesperson and Head of State. In contrast to other independence organizations which lean to the restoration of the monarchy, it advocates a republican government.
In 1989 the group occupied the area surrounding the Makapuʻu lighthouse on Oʻahu. In 1993 its members occupied Kaupo Beach, near Makapuʻu. Kanahele was a primary leader of the occupation, and was the leader of the group overall. Dennis Puʻuhonua Kanahele is a descendant of Kamehameha I, eleven generations removed and is the spokesperson for the organization and the "Head of State" of the Nation of Hawaiʻi. The group ceased their occupation in exchange for the return of ceded lands in the adjacent community of Waimānalo, where they established a village, cultural center, and puʻuhonua (place of refuge).
Kanahele made headlines again in 1995 when his group gave sanctuary to Nathan Brown, a Native Hawaiian activist who had refused to pay federal taxes in protest against the US presence in Hawaii. Kanahele was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to eight months in federal prison, along with a probation period in which he was barred from the puʻuhonua and from participation in his sovereignty efforts.
In 2015, Bumpy portrayed himself in the movie Aloha filmed on location in Hawaii at Puʻuhonua o Waimanalo. This was followed by a 2017 episode of Hawaii Five-0 entitled "Ka Laina Ma Ke One (Line in the Sand)".
Edmund Keliʻi Silva Jr., who many in Hawaii recognize as king, announced a $2.5bn (£1.6bn) plan to reorganize and restore the Kingdom of Hawaii and published the Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii on October 27, 2003. According to Eugene Bai of Russia Direct, In late September 2015 at the Moscow President Hotel in Russia, a 2 million rubles conference was organized by a Kremlin endowment for military-patriotic activities set up by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The conference was for separatist movements around the world including Northern Ireland's nationalist republican party. Four days before the conference, Lanny Sinkin, representing an "Independent Sovereign State of Hawaii" and Edmund Keliʻi Silva Jr. received his invitation and funding for the trip to Moscow. He and the Hawaiian contingency were well received.
Kealoha Pisciotta, a former systems specialist for the joint British-Dutch-Canadian telescope, who became concerned that a stone family shrine she had built for her grandmother and family, years earlier, had been removed and found at a dump. She is one of several people who sued to stop the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope and is also director of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou. Mauna Kea Anaina Hou ("People who pray for the mountain",) and its sister group, Mauna Kea Hui, are indigenous, Native Hawaiian, cultural groups with environmental concerns located in the state of Hawaii. The group is described as "Native Hawaiian organization comprised of cultural and lineal descendants, and traditional, spiritual and religious practitioners of the sacred traditions of Mauna Kea."
The issue of cultural rights on the mountain was the focus of the documentary: Mauna Kea — Temple Under Siege which aired on PBS in 2006 and featured Kealoha Pisciotta. The Hawaii State Constitution guarantees the religious and cultural rights of Native Hawaiians. Many of the state of Hawaii's laws can be traced back to Kingdom of Hawaii law. Hawaiʻi Revised Statute § 1-1 codifies Hawaiian custom and gives deference to native traditions. In the early 1970s, managers of Mauna Kea did not seem to pay much attention to complaints of Native Hawaiians about the sacred nature of the mountain. Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I and the Sierra Club, united their opposition to the Keck's proposal of adding six addition outrigger telescopes.
Hayden Burgess, an attorney who goes by the Hawaiian name Poka Laenui, heads the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs. Laenui argues that because of the four international treaties with the United States government (1826, 1849, 1875, and 1883) the "U.S. armed invasion and overthrow" of the Hawaiian monarchy, a "friendly government," was illegal in both American and international jurisprudence.
In 1976, Walter Ritte and the group Protect Kahoolawe Ohana (PKO) filed suit in U.S. Federal Court to stop the Navy's use of Kahoolawe for bombardment training, to require compliance with a number of new environmental laws and to ensure protection of cultural resources on the island. In 1977, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii allowed the Navy's use of this island to continue, but the Court directed the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement and to complete an inventory of historic sites on the island.
The effort to regain Kahoʻolawe from the U.S. Navy inspired a new political awareness and activism within the Hawaiian community. Charles Maxwell and other community leaders began to plan a coordinated effort to land on the island, which was still under Navy control. The effort for the "first landing" began in Waikapu (Maui) on January 5, 1976. Over 50 people from across the Hawaiian islands, including a range of cultural leaders, gathered on Maui with the goal of "invading" Kahoolawe on January 6, 1976. The date was selected because of its association with the United States' bicentennial anniversary.
As the larger group headed towards the island, they were intercepted by military crafts. "The Kahoʻolawe Nine" continued and successfully landed on the island. They were Ritte, Emmett Aluli, George Helm, Gail Kawaipuna Prejean, Stephen K. Morse, Kimo Aluli, Aunty Ellen Miles, Ian Lind, and Karla Villalba of the Puyallup/Muckleshoot tribe (Washington State). The effort to retake Kahoʻolawe would eventually claims the lives of George Helm and Kimo Mitchell. In an effort to reach Kahoʻolawe, Helm and Mitchell (who were also accompanied by Billy Mitchell, no relation) ran into severe weather and were unable to reach the island. Despite extensive rescue and recovery efforts, they were never recovered. Ritte became a leader in the Hawaiian community, coordinating community efforts including for water rights, opposition to land development, and the protection of marine animals and ocean resources. He now leads the effort to create state legislation requiring the labeling of genetically-modified organisms in Hawaiʻi.
David Keanu Sai and Kamana Beamer are two Hawaiian scholars whose works use international law to argue for the rights of a Hawaiian Kingdom existing today and call for an end to US occupation of the islands.:394 Trained as a U.S. military officer, Sai uses the title of Chairman of the Acting Council of Regency of the Hawaiian Kingdom organization. Sai has done extensive historical research, especially on the treaties between Hawaii and other nations, and on military occupation and the laws of war. Dr. Keanu Sai teaches Hawaiian Studies at Windward Community College.
Sai claimed to represent the Hawaiian Kingdom in a case, Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom, brought before the World Court's Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands in December 2000. Although the arbitration was agreed to by Lance Paul Larsen and David Keanu Sai, with Larsen suing Sai for not protecting his rights as a Hawaiian Kingdom subject, his actual goal was to have U.S. rule in Hawaii declared in breach of mutual treaty obligations and international law. The arbiters of the case affirmed that there was no dispute they could decide upon, because the United States was not a party to the arbitration. As stated in the award from the arbitration panel, "in the absence of the United States of America, the Tribunal can neither decide that Hawaii is not part of the USA, nor proceed on the assumption that it is not. To take either course would be to disregard a principle which goes to heart of the arbitral function in international law."
In an arbitration hearing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in December 2000, the Hawaiian flag was raised at the same height at and alongside other countries. However, the court accepts arbitration from private entities and a hearing before the court does not equal international recognition.
Since April 30, 2008, members of a group calling themselves the Hawaiian Kingdom Government have regularly protested on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu. Led by Mahealani Kahau, who has taken the title of "Queen", and Jessica Wright, who has taken the title of "Princess," they have been meeting each day to conduct government business and demand sovereignty for Hawaii and the restoration of the monarchy. They negotiated rights to be on the lawn of the grounds during regular hours normally open to the public by applying for a public-assembly permit.
In 1993, the State of Hawaiʻi adopted Act 359 "to acknowledge and recognize the unique status the native Hawaiian people bear to the State of Hawaii and to the United States and to facilitate the efforts of native Hawaiians to be governed by an indigenous sovereign nation of their own choosing." The act created the Hawaiian Sovereignty Advisory Committee to provide guidance with: "(1) Conducting special elections related to this Act; (2) Apportioning voting districts; (3) Establishing the eligibility of convention delegates; (4) Conducting educational activities for Hawaiian voters, a voter registration drive, and research activities in preparation for the convention; (5) Establishing the size and composition of the convention delegation; and (6) Establishing the dates for the special election. Act 200 amended Act 359 establishing the Hawaiʻi Sovereignty Elections Council.
Those that were involved with the Advisory Committee forums believed that the question of the political status for Native Hawaiians has become a difficult issue to deal with. However, in 2000 a panel of the committee stated that Native Hawaiians have maintained a unique community. Federal and state programs designated to improve conditions for Native Hawaiians, including health, educational, employment and training, children's services, conservation programs, fish and wildlife protection, agricultural programs, and native language immersion programs. The Hawaiian Homes Commission (HHC) was created by Congress in 1921. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) was the result of a 1978 amendment to the Hawaiʻi State Constitution and controls over a billion dollars from the Ceded Lands Trust, spending millions to address the needs of Native Hawaiians. Mahealani Kamauʻu, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation states that only in the last 25 years that Native Hawaiians "had a modicum of political empowerment and been able to exercise direct responsibility for their own affairs, that progress has been made in so many areas". These programs have opposition and critics that believe they are not effective and managed badly.
In the past decades, the growing frustration of Native Hawaiians over Hawaiian Homelands as well as the 100 year anniversary of the overthrow, pushed the Hawaiian sovereignty movement to the forefront of politics in Hawaii. In 1993, then President Bill Clinton signed the United States Public Law 103-150, known as the "Apology Bill", for US involvement in the 1893 overthrow. The bill offers a commitment towards reconciliation.
US census information shows there were approximately 401,162 Native Hawaiians living within the United States in the year 2000. Sixty percent live in the continental US with forty percent living in the state of Hawaii. Between 1990 and 2000, those people identifying as Native Hawaiian had grown by 90,000 additional people, while the number of those identifying as pure Hawaiian had declined to under 10,000.
Senator Daniel Akaka sponsored a bill in 2009 entitled The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 (S1011/HR2314) which would create the legal framework for establishing a Hawaiian government. The bill was supported by US President Barack Obama. Even though the bill is considered a reconciliation process, it has not had that effect but has instead been the subject of much controversy and political fighting from many arenas. American opponents argue that congress is disregarding US citizens for special interests and sovereignty activists believe this will further erode their rights as the 1921 blood quantum rule of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act had done. In 2011, a governor-appointed committee began to gather and verify names of Native Hawaiians for the purpose of voting on a Native Hawaiian nation.
There has also been opposition against the concept of ancestry-based sovereignty, which critics maintain is tantamount to racial exclusion. In 1996, in Rice v. Cayetano, one Big Island rancher sued to win the right to vote in OHA elections, asserting that every Hawaiian citizen regardless of racial background should be able to vote for a state office, and that limiting the vote to only Native Hawaiians was racist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor and OHA elections are now open to all registered voters. In reaching its decision, the court wrote that "the ancestral inquiry mandated by the State is forbidden by the Fifteenth Amendment for the further reason that the use of racial classifications is corruptive of the whole legal order democratic elections seek to preserve....Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality".
The year of hearings found most speakers with strong opposition to the United States government's involvement in the Hawaiian sovereignty issue, with opponents believing that tribal recognition of Native Hawaiians is not a legitimate path to Hawaiian nationhood, and that the United States government should not be involved in re-establishing Hawaiian sovereignty.
On September 29, 2015, the United States Department of the Interior announced a procedure to recognize a Native Hawaiian government. The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission was created to find and register Native Hawaiians. The nine member commission with the needed expertise for verifying Native Hawaiian ancestry has prepared a roll of registered individuals of Hawaiian heritage.
The nonprofit organization, Naʻi Aupuni will organize the constitutional convention and election of delegates using the roll which began collecting names in 2011. Kelii Akina, Chief Executive Officer of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, filed suit to see the names on the roll and won, finding serious flaws. The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission has since purged the list of names of deceased persons as well as those whose address or e-mails could not be verified.
Akina again filed suit to stop the election because funding of the project comes from a grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and citing a United States Supreme Court case prohibiting the states from conducting race-based elections.
In October 2015, a federal judge declined to stop the process from proceeding. The case was appealed with a formal emergency request to stop the voting until the appeal was heard but the request was denied.
On November 24, the emergency request was made again to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. November 27, Justice Kennedy stopped the election tallying or naming of any delegates. In the United States Supreme Court case, Rice v. Cayetano, Kennedy wrote, "Ancestry can be a proxy for race".
The decision did not stop the voting itself, and a spokesman for the Naʻi Aupuni continued to encourage those eligible to vote before the end of the set deadline of November 30, 2015.
The election was expected to have a cost of about $150,000, and voting was carried out by Elections America, a firm based in Washington D.C. The constitutional convention itself has an estimated cost of $2.6 million.