|Nooksack Tribal Election FRAUDULENT
Four Nooksack tribal council candidates who lost in a December special election filed suit Wednesday in Washington federal court, Law360 reports. The suit, filed by the Galanda Broadman law firm is alleging the U.S. Department of the Interior did not properly oversee the election that they said was fraudulent and likely included ballot stuffing.
The suit is the latest in a long-running dispute over who runs the Nooksack tribe and has a say in tribal matters. Candidates Robert Doucette, Bernadine Roberts and others said that the federal government under the Trump administration abandoned its oversight responsibilities when it accepted the special election results despite allegations that rules were improperly changed and the result could not be trusted, according to the complaint.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior said that after March 2016 — when "the tribal chair refused to convene the constitutionally required election" — the terms of four members expired and the tribal council no longer had a quorum. In 2016, officials said only tribal elections that comply with the law would be recognized, the complaint said, adding that members should not be excluded based on geography.
An Obama administration holdover eventually negotiated a memorandum of agreement that called for a Bureau of Indian Affairs official to make sure a special election was run properly. When there were problems, however, the Interior Department didn't properly step in, according to the complaint.
"Interior's inaction reflected a sharp departure from its policy of interpreting Nooksack tribal constitutional, statutory and common law in order to determine whether the tribal council is validly seated as the governing body of the tribe," the complaint said.
The complaint said the election superintendent appointed by the tribal chairman was the twin sister of an incumbent candidate. That occurred in late August 2017, and the complaint says that it was around that time that Trump administration officials took over for Obama holdovers. First, the Interior Department didn't force the removal of the election superintendent, even though an Interior Department official previously said the appointment of the twin sister "gives the appearance of skewing the election process," the complaint says.
That deference to the incumbent tribal leaders was a change in policy that wasn't backed up by facts, the complaint said. In addition, the Nooksack election board previously said all ballots must be postmarked and mailed in by election day, unless there were special circumstances, according to the complaint. That rule was changed just before election day to say ballots must be "received by the election board by the end of business [on] election day."
The complaint said that "foretold a fraudulent special election." In November 2019, the plaintiffs in the case expressed concerns to the BIA about the integrity of the election. There were concerns that replacement ballots "would be accepted in person and processed without validation via postmark or voter signature." The complaint also says that the BIA conducting only minor monitoring of the election raised questions about the integrity of the process.
The losing candidates protested the election results to the BIA, saying "we are confident the board stuffed the ballot box with purported replacement ballots." But the BIA endorsed the election and refused to "insert itself" into the dispute. That decision was allegedly improper and arbitrary, according to the complaint.
Separately, in May, a group that said it was denied voting rights questioned the legitimacy of the results of the Nooksack's tribal council election, in which four candidates who favored the disenrollment of the faction won. The group alleged that it was improperly excluded in an effort to "rig the regular election." On Monday, members of that group filed a notice of appeal with the Board of Indian Appeals challenging the Interior Department's decision to acknowledge the outcome.
The "Nooksack 306," a group fighting disenrollment from the tribe, alleged that Roswell "Ross" Cline and three other officials who won election to the tribal council did so "as a result of atypically low vote counts due to the exclusion of the 306 from the polls."
A representative for the plaintiffs declined to comment on Thursday. The Interior Department does not comment on pending litigation.