Opinion: Tribes exploit loopholes in America's political system

Elaine Willman. Photo from Village of Hobart, Wisconsin

Elaine Willman, a board member for the anti-Indian group Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, rails against tribal participation on the U.S. political system:
Remember that tribal governments existed long before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but tribal government conduct in elections is not addressed in the Voting Rights Act designed to assist minority voters, nor has tribal government conduct in elections been addressed in any subsequent federal legislation respecting minority voters. Why is this a problem? The need of better access for minority voters is worthy and not the issue here. But when a separate government controls one minority, and its individual minority (Native American) voters can be coerced into bloc voting, that minority becomes a renegade “swing” vote. And the “swing” goes to the party most cooperative in close elections across the country.

There is an additional worry. In many, if not most states that host Indian reservations, a tribal identification card is the sole identification needed for a tribal member to register to vote. This would be fine if tribal governments were also required to provide accurate lists of their enrolled members to Secretaries of States or county officials that regulate and enforce elections. Tribes are not required to do so, and states have absolutely no legal way to verify or authenticate a tribal identification card used for voter registration. Why is this is a problem? States can verify state driver’s licenses, and other state identification sources. But what if tribal governments were to issue to a single voting tribal member, an identification card in an Indian name, an English name, and perhaps a maiden name as well? If I am a registered voter, and I have one vote, but my tribal neighbor may have more than one vote, and then votes in accordance with tribal government instruction, what does that do to my vote? It is part of the Hippopotamus that squelches my vote and yours.

This system has been in serious play in evenly divided states for more than two decades already, and is becoming even the more severe in terms of financial and voting political outcomes. Need some examples? How about the very close election that transferred a Senate seat from Slade Gorton to Maria Cantwell? Or the 130-vote difference on a third recount that provided Washington State with Governor Gregoire instead of Dino Rossi? The State Capitol of Olympia has been Santa Claus for 31 tribal governments for years now. Property and business tax losses and state revenue flowing to these tribes must be offset by the rest of Washington taxpayers.

Another egregious example exists in Montana. Before the November 2006 elections, the Crow Indian tribe passed a tribal legislative directive, endorsing a slate of tribal candidates for county government offices, and announced, “We’re taking over Big Horn County government.” The tribal legislation was full-page advertisement in newspapers on and off the reservation, and mandatory tribal employee “feasts” were held with shiny new tribal ID cards issued to tribal members up to and through Election Day.

Get the Story:
Elaine Willman: The Dung in America’s Elections (The Fairfield Sun TImes 10/23)

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