By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
An audit of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ 2017 General Election and recounts alleges ballot tampering and voter fraud, and now tribal leaders want to know who was responsible. Tribal Council voted during its Budget Council session on Tuesday, Feb. 27 to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the tampering. Those wishing to relay information can do so by calling (800) 455-9014 or visiting https://ebci.alertline.com.
Res. No. 133, submitted by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, was passed unanimously. The resolution states in part, “…to restore trust in the election system, and to bring those responsible to justice, it is necessary for the Tribe to contract with an independent third-party investigator to dig deeper into the subject and attempt to identify who was responsible for the adulteration of the 2017 election.”
During discussion on the legislation on Tuesday, Chief Sneed commented that himself and Vice Chief Alan “B.” Ensley attended a community meeting in the Big Cove Community recently and the election tampering issue was a hot topic of discussion. “Community member Lori Taylor was adamant at that meeting, and we were all in agreement, that further investigation needed to be conducted because the audit report does not designate who they think may have done the tampering.”
He added, “It is imperative that we restore full faith in the election process of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians…I believe everybody seated around this horseshoe, everybody involved in tribal government, and every member of this community wants to know who was responsible.”
The initial report was conducted by Veriti Consulting LLC and states, “In summary, it is Veriti’s opinion there was ballot tampering between Election Day and the Recount due to significant internal control weaknesses in the election process and safeguarding of election documentation. It is impossible to determine who the person or persons were that committed the alleged ballot tampering. Further analysis and review of all internal controls related to the election process should be performed to further assess, and strengthen policies and procedures.”
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle said on Tuesday, “I think we need to get to the bottom of it, and we need to put the faith back in our people where they can come out and vote and feel like they voted for the person that they wanted in and got in…I’m all for this. It’s kind of sad that this came from Birdtown because there are some great people in Birdtown, very trustworthy, but there was some evidence and allegations of wrongdoing here. I think we need to find out who it was.”
The Birdtown Community was a large focus of the investigation. Boyd Owle (506 votes) was in first place following the General Election with a large lead over Albert Rose (431) and Ashley Sessions (419). A recount was held for the community on Sept. 13, 2017, and the total number of ballots increased by 78.
“The change in ballot counts between Election Day and the Recount resulted in the third-place candidate, Sessions, moving into the second-place position,” the report states. “After challenges by both Rose and Sessions, the Board of Elections called for the Run-off election on Oct. 10, 2017, between Rose and Sessions. Rose won the Run-off election by a wide margin.”
During its investigation, Veriti related that their staff toured polling locations (Birdtown, Wolftown, Big Y), reviewed Board of Elections documents, assessed the security and safeguarding at both the Board of Elections and the BIA offices, reviewed ballots and ballot bins, and more.
In a section of the report entitled “Conclusion of Birdtown Ballots”, Veriti notes, “It appears the General Election in Birdtown, specifically the Early Ballots and Undervote Ballots, were altered between Election Day and the Recount. The fact there was an increase of 86 additional votes per the Recount and a decrease in the Undervote ballots supports our conclusion that ballot tampering occurred.”
Of particular interest in the report are the storage bins containing the ballots. Veriti noted in the report, “Each type of bin was ‘sealed’ shut with a numbered zip tie. However, even with the security seals in place, several bin types remained unsecured. With minimal effort, we opened the sealed bins and slid our arm in and removed ballots.”
The report went on to note, “The unsecured, but sealed, storage bins would have permitted the possible manipulation of General Election ballots between the election night count on Sept. 7, 2017 and the Recount on Sept. 13, 2017. Anyone with access to the BIA Vault could have added, removed, or altered ballots with relative ease. Based upon election data previously described, we believe this may have been the means by which an unknown person or persons altered ballots.”
A time frame for the second investigation was not set per the resolution. It was decided to put the matter out for bid through an RFP (Request for Proposals). The resolution does state, “…the person or firm hired to perform this second-level investigation shall have training and experience in conducting investigations for the purpose of identifying violations of applicable law, for the purpose of identifying persons responsible for such violations, and for the purpose of obtaining and preserving evidence for criminal prosecutions and civil legal actions.”