For the second time in less than two months, members of the Ute Indian Tribe are submitting names of nominees for possible election to the governing tribal business committee.
A tribal judge on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation in eastern Utah found the March 14 primary election unconstitutional. Judge Leon Perank stayed a present restraining order halting a general election scheduled for April 2 and approved a motion to have the entire election process conducted over.Tribal public relations spokesman Larry Cesspooch said following seven hours of testimony last week, Judge Perank ruled that a mandate by the four-member election board forcing tribal members to sign their ballots was unconstitutional. The board's decision went contrary to the tribal constitution, which states the balloting process will be secret, he said.
In addition to the constitutional problems, Cesspooch said the court found "possibly conspiracy" and ineligible voters allowed to cast ballots in the primary election.
Tribal member Madeline Martinez and business committee nominees Wayne Perank, Tibbs Ridley and Clarice Ignacio hired former tribal attorney Gary Montana to bring the matter before the court. Several voters refused to cast their ballots because they were required to sign their names.
"Judge Perank called for elections to be conducted over once again. This time, nominations for the three business committee seats will be open within 10 days. Within 15 days after nominations close, the primary election will be held. The general election will be held within 15 days following the primary. The current election board will be disbanded and a new board made up of Bureau of Indian Affairs officials will be formed for this special election only," said Cesspooch.
The election board is traditionally selected by the six-member business committee and includes one representative from each of the tribe's three bands and a fourth member to act as secretary.
Cesspooch said none of the board members appeared in court to defend their actions. "The election board was found in contempt of court and fined because they didn't even bother to show up." The reasoning behind their decision to have people sign their ballots was to have "accountability," he stated.
The issue of what will happen when the current terms of the three business committee members expire in May prior to the general election has yet to be resolved. Cesspooch said the business committee is expected to address the problem, but he said, "It's believed current committee members Alvin Pinnecoose, Gary Poowequp Sr. and Floyd Wopsock and will stay in place until the election is held." All three are running for re-election.
The tribe hopes to correct any future problems with the voting process by implementing new regulations governing election procedures. "Within 60 days, tribal attorney Robert Thompson will draft a new election ordinance. This ordinance will have business committee input and more importantly, public hearings will be held for tribal input," stated Cesspooch.