December 2003

Procedures violated in Oct. 10 tribal election, official says

By Jim Mimiaga

Three candidates for the Ute Mountain tribal council election were put on the Oct. 10 ballot despite failing to obtain enough signatures to do so, reports the tribe’s top election official.

One of those candidates, incumbent Ernest House, was re-elected.

House, along with Ben Pavisook and Christine Lehi, were initially disqualified because they did not get the required 25 signatures. But they were all placed on the ballot anyway by an executive order issued by acting chairman Harold Cuthair, according to Quinton Jacket, chairman of the election board.

“It was totally wrong and I told him it was wrong, as did the tribe’s attorney and executive administrator,” Jacket told the Free Press. “He did it anyway.”

The election was for two council seats held by House and Rudy Hammond, whose terms were up. The incumbents ran again, with House attracting the most votes, 200, securing another three-year term. Hammond (82 votes) lost to Arthur Cuthair, who was the second-highest vote-getter at 145.

But the manner in which some of the candidates were put on the ballot violates the tribe’s own constitution, smacks of favoritism and is unfair to other candidates, Jacket said.

“It changed the outcome, because those votes should have gone to other candidates who had the proper amount of signatures,” Jacket said. He added that absentee ballots were sent out without House, Pavisook or Lehi on them. By the time the polls opened, however, they had been added onto the ballot.

The candidates’ applications were denied because fewer than 25 of the required signatures could be verified, Jacket said. Election boards compare the signatures with those on voter registration cards.

“It is there to protect against fraudulent signing,” he said.

Candidates have three days to appeal, and Lehi and Pavisook did so, but House did not. Before the appeals could be made, Harold Cuthair issued the order placing them on the ballot.

Jacket said that the five-person election board was unanimous in denying the three applications because of the questionable signatures.

“It’s in the past, but it shows that there is a lack of understanding of laws and policy,” Jacket said.

Clearly, the results would have been different had the candidates without sufficient signatures been denied getting on the ballot, legal experts say.

The election was a close race and could be overturned if losing candidates challenged the results, which were as follows: Ernest House, 200; Art Cuthair, 145; Rudy Hammond, 82; Orrin Wing, 74; Carl Knight, 69; Christine Lehi, 65; Phillip Laner Sr. 62; Ben Pavisook, 59; Melvin Hatch, 52; and John Wing Jr., 21.