Tribal membership, federal dollars and a casino on the line with Nooksack election
Some are claiming voter fraud in a controversial tribal council election in northwest Washington.
Nooksack tribal membership, tens of millions of federal dollars and a casino are on the line.
Early results from Saturday's election show all incumbents won their seats.
Those four seats expired in March of 2016. That’s when this election was supposed to happen. It was delayed by nearly two years while the council worked to strip tribal membership from about 300 people.
The tribe didn’t have a legal government during that time. So the federal government withheld tens of millions of dollars from the tribe, took over the tribal health clinic and shut down their casino. The feds also didn’t recognize the disenrollments.
When the tribe agreed to hold an election a few months ago, interim federal money started flowing back to the tribe and so did operation of its casino. That could all go away again if the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not certify this election by December 23.
There is already concern of voter fraud.
Gabe Galanda represents about 300 people whose tribal membership has been questioned by the Nooksack council. Since tribal leadership oversaw the election and there was record voter turnout, Galanda's concerned “the predominate fraud is ballot stuffing.”
Galanda and others said many families never got their ballots, some ballots were sent to incorrect addresses, and the tribe changed a rule last month for ballots to be received rather than postmarked by the election deadline, causing a disadvantage for many of Galanda’s clients that live far away from the reservation.
Michelle Roberts is part of the group that has been threatened with disenrollment. She said some of her family members received Nooksack newsletters and reminders to vote in the mail but never got their ballots.
“It’s just fishy that they could receive other correspondence that wasn’t as critical in the mail but they didn’t get a ballot,” Roberts said.
Robert Doucette ran for the vice chairman position at Nooksack. He also points out that the election committee chairperson is the sister to one of the candidates.
Doucette and the three other candidates who lost will file a protest against the election results to the BIA.
"I was the one who always said the people’s voice was their vote, but the more I thought about it, the more things didn't add up right,” he said.
The Nooksack Tribal Council and the BIA did not return interview requests.
The BIA is scheduled to certify the election December 23. If the election is certified, the saga over disenrolling 300 people from the tribe could continue.