Tribal governments are the only American governments that can freely and directly make campaign contributions to incumbents or candidates willing to do their bidding. (See FEC Advisory Opinion 2000-05). No other American governments may do so. Tribal governments are not held to the same reporting accountability for election contributions as other entities and individuals.
Who Benefits from the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2017?
By Elaine D. Willman, MPA*
It is astonishing to learn that at least 46 Senators and 188 Congressional Representatives (all Democrats) are either unaware or completely indifferent to the reality that tribal governments have no legal duty whatsoever to the American voter. The Voting Right Advancement Act of 2017 (S. 1419 and H.R. 2978) provide supplemental polling places for tribal members only on tribal land that are under no obligation to follow federal or state election law for all federal, state, county and local elections. Tribes may simply turn in an unaccountable vote tally that cannot be questioned. In close elections, the tribal block votes orchestrated by tribal councils can swing the vote. This has already happened frequently in the States of Washington and Idaho. Identical bills, S. 1419 and H.R. 2978 legitimize and spread this practice nationwide.
That said; take a hard look at these bills entitled Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2017. The purpose of these identical bills is as follows:
“A representative official of an Indian tribe, with authorization from the governing body of the tribe, may request one or more polling places to be located on the Indian lands of the Indian tribe. Such request shall be delivered in writing to the State or political subdivision with responsibility for assigning polling places at least 6 months prior to the next election for which the request is made, and shall specify the location of each requested polling place.”
Here are just a few problems with these identical bills, S. 1419 and H.R. 2978:
•Indian reservations are located within counties and towns that have adequate polling precincts for local voters of all ethnicities;
•County and municipal polling precincts are subject to the strict election regulations, oversight and enforcement of their respective Secretaries of State across the country.
•Secretaries of State have no regulatory or enforcement authority over polling sites located on federal Indian trust lands.
•A majority of Indian reservations are located in very urbanized areas that include multiple counties, cities and towns, all fully equipped to handle federal, state, county and local elections.
•Votes obtained from tribal polling sites operating privately and outside of federal and state election law, but included in vote counts in federal, state and local elections is unconstitutional, at least, and a purely race-based component legislated into our country’s elections.
•Tribal governments that fail or refuse to follow federal and state election laws are protected by “sovereign immunity” and cannot be sued; there’s no legal remedy for misconduct at private tribal polling places on federal trust land.
But here’s the deal that is so attractive to the “coin-operated” Congressmen sponsoring these bills: Tribal governments are the only American governments that can freely and directly make campaign contributions to incumbents or candidates willing to do their bidding. (See FEC Advisory Opinion 2000-05). No other American governments may do so. Tribal governments are not held to the same reporting accountability for election contributions as other entities and individuals. These bills set up a spurious system available to 567 tribal governments on over 340 reservations across the country.
So 46 Senators and 188 Congressman see the sweet deal. They reap the tribal money and now plan to conflate the tribal vote across the country.
The model for this atrocious bill occurred in 2006 in Montana. The Crow Tribe and ACLU sued the State of Montana for the lack of polling precincts convenient to their members, and won. Then the Crow Tribe published full page ads in area newspapers announcing a full slate of tribal candidates, announcing that the Crow Tribe would take over Big Horn County government. And they did. Today all elected offices of Big Horn County government, and 95% of county employees are enrolled Crow Tribal members making county land use and taxation decisions, from which they are exempt. Tribal members elected to county positions are making land use and taxation decisions that affect the non-tribal Big Horn county residents; such decisions are likely in the best interest of the tribal government and not the county government they serve.
How did they do that? Easy. Polling precincts were placed on federal trust land; multiple new tribal enrollment cards were issued to members; feasts were held, transportation provided, voting lists provided to each tribal voter, and members voted at one or more of the polling precincts on the Crow Reservation. This is exactly how Senator Jon Tester became the 51st Senator in 2007, changing the Senate from Republican to Democrat.
A national organization and local Big Horn County residents saw this travesty coming, contacted the Montana U.S. Attorney, Secretary of State and anyone else that would listen, before the election, during the election, and after the election, but to no avail.
Ballot boxes were not locked at tribal polling precincts; non-tribal poll watchers were not allowed; the ballot boxes carried by the Sheriff (a Crow tribal member) were transported to the Big Horn County Recorder (a Crow tribal member) late at night…and behold, Senator Jon Tester squeaked by former Senator Conrad Burns for a very specious and questionable “win.”
A Complaint was filed in federal district court in Billings, Montana (Case CV07-74-BLG- RFC Amended). Legal counsel defending the Crow Tribe, Big Horn County and the State of Montana was Stephen Bullock; recognize the name? Steve Bullock got the case dismissed with condescending tone and innuendos that the plaintiffs were discriminating racists, so the case was never heard on its merits. Unfortunately, plaintiffs could not fund an appeal to seek a hearing on the merits of the case. With polling precincts on federal trust property getting a judicial pass from a federal court, the game was set. Bullock was rewarded by this same process with his election as Attorney General for Montana in 2009, and now enjoys his second term as Governor of Montana. Montana’s Executive Branch and State Legislature are overwhelmingly influenced by tribal money and votes.
With the success of so many coin-operated elected officials in Montana, supplemental polling precincts on Indian land that are unaccountable to State or Federal election codes is now being promoted en masse across the country by Democrats in the Senate and the House.
It is imperative that S. 1419 and H.R. 2978 be soundly defeated. Election fraud is rampant across the country as it is. Imagine, just for example, what happens to a State like Washington with 31 tribes having abundant private tribal polling places that are unaffected by America’s election laws.
Washington, California, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, New York and many other states will be deeply impacted by this legislation. All states hosting Indian reservations will experience a significant and unconstitutional shift in election practices and election outcomes, should these monster bills, S. 1419 and H.R. 2978 see daylight.
*Elaine Devary Willman, MPA, is of strong Cherokee ancestry; her spouse is Shoshone and a direct descendant of Sacajawea. Ms. Willman has lived for 25 years on three Indian reservations (Yakama (WA), Oneida (WI), and the Flathead Indian Reservation (MT). She is a specialist in the field of federal Indian policy, a constant researcher, speaker, activist, and author of two books: (2005) Going to Pieces…the dismantling of the United States of America, and (2016) Slumbering Thunder…a primer for confronting the spread of federal India policy and tribalism overwhelming America.