Voters on the Ute Indian Reservation in eastern Utah will cast ballots Wednesday for 23 candidates vying in primary elections for three seats on the tribe's embattled Business Committee.
The polling follows a tribal decision that a petition drive to hold a recall election of five of six members of the ruling Business Committee failed to collect enough signatures. That decision is under court appeal.Typically, 400 to 500 of the tribe's 1,000 registered voters turn out for elections, Business Committee spokeswoman Carlene Kurip said. But Business Committee opponents say recent controversy could increase the turnout.
The entire Business Committee was voted out of office in a public meeting in January, although members remain seated, contending the vote was unconstitutional. The vote was a result of charges of wrongdoing and incompetence against the committee.
Additionally, the Business Committee recently gutted the tribal court and turned it over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, further irking Business Committee opponents.
Dissident Larry Cespooch said Tuesday that voter turnout could be heavy, especially among disgruntled tribal youths who are anxious for new direction in their leadership.
"This is where the whole movement is coming from," Cespooch said. "Things have got to be molded and shaped to where they're going to work better for present generations and generations to come."
Three Business Committee members are up for re-election - Chairman Lester Chapoose and members Maxine Natchees and Stewart Pike, representing the White River, Uintah and Uncompahgre bands, respectively.
Primary elections will reduce the field to two for April 12 general elections. Election winners will be sworn into office May 12, Kurip said.
Cespooch, a leader in the drive to recall five Business Committee members, said dissidents would wait until after the general election to restart the petition process to recall any remaining current Business Committee members.
An election board found some of the petition signatures necessary to bring about a recall election invalid. Tribal dissidents have appealed the board's decision in court, now under the BIA's jurisdiciton.