Tribal voting rights

NEW TOWN – A grassroots organization comprised primarily of enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes is seeking to repeal a more than 30-year-old amendment to the tribal Constitution and restore the rights for nonresident tribal voters to vote in tribal elections held on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

In 1986, the tribal business council approved an amendment that each qualified voter had to return to the reservation to vote in an election. Before that time nonresident tribal voters voted by absentee ballots.That ended by a tribal council-sponsored action in amending the tribal Constitution.

The Fort Berthold Legacy Vision organization, an ad hoc group, plans to present a 52-page petition to tribal council secretary, Fred Fox, during the week of July 23 at the tribal council offices.

Signed by 330 adult, enrolled tribal members, the petition demands the tribal business council, upon receipt of the petition, to schedule and hold a tribal referendum election, as required by Article VIII of the Three Affiliated Tribes Constitution, on the repeal of two sections of the Three Affiliated Tribes Election Ordinance.

The current two sections of the ordinance the group is asking to be repealed states each qualified voter, who is not a legal resident of the Fort Berthold Reservation on the date of the election, whether a primary, general or special election, has to return to the reservation to vote in the election and to register to vote and cast his or her ballot at an appropriate polling place on the date of the election. The non-resident voter must continue to vote in that district or segment until such time he or she has established legal residence in a different district or segment of the reservation on the date of any subsequent election.

According to a news release from Fort Berthold Legacy Vision, over 75-80 percent of the constitutionally eligible tribal voters of the Three Affiliated Tribes have been effectively excluded, since 1986, from voting in tribal elections on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

“The practical ‘real world’ consequence of this 1986 decision by the TBC to exclude the overwhelming majority of the constitutionally qualified tribal voters from participating in tribal elections is that a small entrenched and privileged minority of tribal members have been entitled to make ALL (emphasis added) of the major economic and political decisions that affect all enrolled members of the TAT without any real regards for the rights and interests of those 75%-80% of those tribal members who live and work off the Reservation. Given the recent large scale development of the Reservation’s oil & gas resources and the resulting influx of tribal mineral royalty income, in addition to the tribal tax sharing revenues received by the TBC under the 2013 Tribal-State Tax Agreement, many millions, if not potentially billions, of dollars of tribal members’ income has now become subject to the federally unsupervised control and discretionary expenditure by a small minority of tribal members who presently control all the political and economic decision making processes of the TAT,” the news release also said.

“This ‘return to the Reservation to vote’ requirement clearly violates the substantive and procedural due process rights of the nonresident tribal voters who are subject to this tribal election ordinance. For example, there are many nonresident tribal voters who, for a wide variety of good and legitimate reasons, who simply cannot comply with this requirement. Fundamental due process principles require, at a minimum, that each of these tribal members who fundamental tribal voting rights are now subject to adverse governmental regulation and/or limitation, be accorded a fair and impartial hearing as to why this ‘return to the reservation’ requirement may not, or should not, be applied to them,” the news release added.

Members of the Fort Berthold Legacy Vision board of directors are: George Abe, Ray Baker, John Charging, Ray Cross, Ed Danks, Charles Hudson, Marilyn Hudson, Kimberly Mettler, Margaret Henke Moss, Juan Carlos Pienado, Antonella Pippia, Vanessa Price, Lane Bear Vocu and Loren White Jr.

Board members meet once a month by conference call to take action on pending issues.