By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
With what has happened with this year’s midterms, in Florida, in North Dakota, in Georgia, where issues of voter suppression, provisional ballots, recounts and the potential for runoffs, it should be that local elections are conducted in ways to instill faith in our democracy. Thankfully, few if any, problems were reported with the voting in this last election. The only issue that has been reported was with some voters. Their choices weren’t properly marked, often showing as cast for the opponent.
This brings us to the tribal elections. It just seems that a controversy erupts with every election. It’s been that way since the “Urgent Message” went out to non-reservation tribal members in 2003 suggesting they could lose it all if they didn’t vote, and that message came with a list of candidates they should support. Since then, twice something nefarious has been discovered with ballot boxes. Now stands a reward for information pointing to anyone responsible for tampering with ballots in the last Tribal Council elections.
The last Tribal Council elections were a mess, especially in Birdtown, and not just with running out of early voting ballots. Two candidates prevailed, the current representatives Boyd Owle and Albert Rose. But Rose’s results were close to third place candidate Ashley Sessions. She requested and got a recount that put her in second. Rose protested. Attorneys got involved. The board investigated, and determined with board member Margaret French dissenting that a runoff election should be held between Sessions and Rose. Rose won the runoff, but the decision of the board was hardly without controversy.
If there is an issue that is obvious, tribal elections are long overdue for an upgrade. The same scanning of paper ballots marked in ink has been in use for years and years. These ballots have been stored in plastic bins and sealed with the use of a sealing tie. As has been the case twice since the 2003 elections, the bins have been shown to be easily compromised. If the Tribe is going to continue with the use of paper ballots, a more secure method and system must be implemented, preferably one that uses a fire proof system with a lock.
This brings another issue, the use of paper ballots. Aside from the large amount of storage needed to house these ballots, particularly with security in mind, it’s been shown to be too easy to manipulate them. This could be solved with the use of (offline) electronic voting. Electronic voting is far from perfect, as congressional candidate Phillip Price’s supporters noted with faulty machines, someone would have to be an IT expert with the ability to manipulate the machines prior to votes being cast to tamper with the votes, and voters can check their votes onscreen and on the paper receipt to ensure their ballots are cast correctly. This would certainly resolve the issue of ballot tampering after the fact. It’s 2018. Paper ballots should only be used for disabled voters and those who request them, and as it is now, voters who need assistance can get it from poll workers.
Two suggestions that came out of the work session deserve serious consideration. One is the board needs to adopt written policies in how elections are conducted, and they need to make those policies public. While there is no way to foresee every potential problem, the most common ones during the conduct of elections can be addressed through policy.
The other is the board needs its own attorney. This is no slight to Mike McConnell. His work on access to information has been invaluable to this publication. However, take him out of the equation. An attorney general is impacted by the outcome of an election, and an attorney general is in the position of shaping policy, law and decisions of the election board. That presents a conflict. The board needs its own attorney, just like the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise does.
While the problems that arose last election need to be resolved, the goal with any elections law, or even applying the current one, is ensuring that our elections are credible, accurate and fair. The goal needs to be giving the tribal members faith in their elections. We need to have faith in our democratic process. Going forward this needs to be our focus.