Allegations of fraud and irregularities already cloud the outcome of a long-awaited Nooksack tribal-council election. The tribe has long been riven by bitter division over an effort to kick out hundreds of members.
Preliminary results from a long-awaited Nooksack tribal-council election show victory for four incumbents in favor of kicking out hundreds of members. But allegations of fraud and irregularities already cloud the outcome.
“I’ve been doing the math and it just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Robert Doucette, who ran on a slate promising change in a tribe riven by bitter division over a long-running disenrollment effort.
He was referring to the 812 ballots reportedly received by the tribe’s election board — almost 200 more than in the primary. He suggested that some of the ballots had been improperly rounded up by the tribal faction in power.
Seattle attorney Gabriel Galanda, who has long represented those facing disenrollment, attracting national attention, has now taken on Doucette and other members of his slate as clients. On Monday, Galanda filed a challenge to the results with the tribal election board. He said he also plans to lodge a protest with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
Most Read Local Stories
- Coronavirus daily news updates, July 8: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Coronavirus daily news updates, July 9: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- ‘Everybody down!’: What happened at the shooting that killed a teenager and led to CHOP's shutdown
- Mary Kay Letourneau, teacher jailed for raping student, has died, report says
- Washington state coronavirus hospitalizations on the rise, but still far below peak
Neither tribal Election Superintendent Katrice Rodriguez nor Chairman Bob Kelly returned requests for comment.
Under an agreement worked out with the federal government, the BIA must certify the mail-in election results by the end of December. It also sent two monitors to oversee the process, according to Galanda and Doucette.
The unusual federal involvement reflects the dysfunction that has gripped the tribe.
As Kelly and aligned council members sought to kick out roughly 300 members in a dispute over lineage and power, the tribal government stopped tending to other matters and resorted to unusual means to enforce its will. It fired a judge for opinions it didn’t like, disbarred Galanda and called off an election that was supposed to be held in 2015.
With some Nooksack council members holding onto power after their terms had expired, the feds deemed the tribal government illegitimate and denied the tribe millions in federal funds. The election was a prerequisite for getting that funding back.
Despite the monitors, Galanda and Doucette said they knew of a number of irregularities. They said that while the agreement with the feds required that the 300 facing disenrollment be allowed to vote, a number of them didn’t get ballots mailed to them.
At first, all ballots were supposed to be mailed back to the election board. Then, the board said that it would accept hand-delivered ballots.
“What’s to say you’re not stuffing the ballot box?” Galanda asked.
Doucette said officials were using tribal cars to drive voters to get ballots and turn them in. “Lots of opportunity for coercion,” he said.
For the first time, tribal officials counted ballots in private, he and Galanda also said, although they believed the monitors were present.
On top of all that, Galanda’s protest with the election board charges bribery. The incumbents, if they won, promised to distribute individual payouts from a fund the tribe received from a previous settlement with the federal government, according to Galanda.
The Seattle lawyer said he didn’t know whether the monitors saw anything that concerned them. A BIA spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Neither Doucette or other members of his slate, which includes his daughter and ex-wife, are facing disenrollment. “I sat on the sidelines for quite a few years,” he said, “until this year, things got really ugly.
“There was so much negativity going on around here, and hate.”
Even though he lives on the Lummi Nation’s reservation, due to his wife’s membership in that tribe, the construction company owner jumped into the race. “My slogan,” he said, “was positive change.”
He wanted to bring the Nooksack’s warring factions together. It looks like that’s going to take a while.