Challenging the election results: LaDuke unhappy
Peggy Treuer, chief judge of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Tribal Court, was expected to rule Friday on a challenge to the April 5 White Earth Primary Election.
No decision was announced as of press time.
The primary election was challenged on several issues, including questions about the dismissal of three-quarters of the tribal election board just days before the vote, questions over absentee ballot procedures, and questions over residency requirements for candidates.
Terrance “Terry” Tibbetts Sr. and Melinda “Mindy” Iverson were the top two vote-getters in a field of 12 candidates in the primary vote for White Earth Tribal chairman.
Tibbetts had 416 votes, or nearly 20 percent of the total, and Iverson had 408 votes, or just over 19 percent. If nothing changes, the two will face off in the general election June 14.
Well-known activist Winona LaDuke came in third with 378 votes.
One candidate, Marvin Manypenny, said he testified for five hours at a primary-challenge hearing on Wednesday.
“I’m hoping they have a new election to straighten out all the inconsistencies here,” Manypenny said. “They kept doing things the (election) ordinance wouldn’t allow – right to the end.”
White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason said the election ordinance was followed at all times, and the primary election challenge is without merit.
“When it comes down to allegations,” she said, “they are only that until they’re proven.”
“I’m trying to do the right thing,” said LaDuke. “I actually would like an election that works – in this process our people were cheated.”
LaDuke said she believes about 180 to 200 would-be absentee voters, mostly her supporters, did not receive an absentee ballot and their votes were not counted in the primary.
The Tribal Council dismissed three of the four judges on the tribal election board just days before the primary vote, on the grounds that they had been in contact with candidates.
Manypenny alleged that the sole member of the election board to keep her job did so because she is related to three of the four current tribal council members.
“That’s false,” Mason said. “I conducted the investigation and it came down to interviewing all the parties that were involved … Honestly, she wasn’t involved.”
LaDuke said she was one of the candidates that had been in contact with the election board.
She said the card she sent out to supporters to request absentee ballots didn’t make clear that they needed to sign the request as well as print their names.
“From 180 to 200 people did not get a ballot,” she said. “Their request did not have a signature on it.”
The election board contacted her in an attempt to make sure voters received the help they needed. The board also contacted another candidate, Diane King, who sent out a card with the wrong phone number, LaDuke said.
“A number of requests for absentee ballots came in without signatures, a lot of them were mine,” LaDuke said. “So the election board called myself and Diane King … we asked if there was a way we could correct that.”
Voting by absentee ballot can be a complicated procedure, LaDuke added. “They felt it was in the interest of voters to try to help them.”
For the election board to be in contact with candidates can be a serious offense under tribal election law.
LaDuke, who has a lot of Facebook friends, put the word out on Facebook that tribal absentee ballot requests had to be signed by the voter to be valid.
“A complaint was filed based on that interaction between me and the election board,” she said.
LaDuke said the complaint caused Mason, the tribal council secretary-treasurer, to launch an investigation that resulted in the three well-regarded election board members being dismissed.
“That’s a violation of the process,” LaDuke said. “The review should have been done first by the election board and then by Gary Frazer,” executive director of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, the umbrella organization that encompasses White Earth and six other Ojibwe bands.
“That’s not what occurred,”’ LaDuke said. “There’s a conflict of interest in the Tribal Council getting involved in the election process.”
Mason said the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe was informed before the Tribal Council even started the investigation into the election board.
“We followed the election ordinance set forth by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe,” she said. “When I spoke to Gary (Frazer) I requested him to inform the chairman of the Tribal Executive Committee,” which governs the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
Manypenny and LaDuke also said they don’t believe that the second-place winner in the primary election, Melinda “Mindy” Iverson, meets the one-year residency requirement for a candidate.
Mason said the tribal legal office vetted all candidates before the Tribal Council allowed their names to be placed on the ballot.
“If everybody goes back and reads the constitution and the election ordinance, they’ll see that everything was followed,” she said. “Everything was presented and recommended by the tribal attorney, all the candidates were approved.”