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Tribal Elections Should Help Create Better Government


Tribal Elections Should Help Create Better Government

The 2013 St. Regis Tribal elections are now at hand and some annual decisions have to be made by eligible voters. Will you vote? Are you inspired by the candidates? Do you feel that your voice will be heard?

One direct signal to tribal politicians pertaining to interest in tribal governance is the number of cast ballots in the tribal elections. Successful elections should be proportionate in the number of votes cast to the number of eligible voters.

There are many reasons why eligible tribal voters participate in the elected council system. Equally, there are reasons why some past tribal elections have shown such low voter numbers. Will this year’s version of the tribal elections show progress in participation, or will the outcome show a deflated tribal voter membership?

Anyone paying attention to recent tribal political activities knows something different is going on. Personally, I have not seen so many tribal council group pictures donating money to various organizations as I have seen recently. With no offense intended towards the recipient organizations, the timing of the photo-ops adds to the political nature of the donations. The natural definition of politics pertains to who makes the decisions. Because some incumbents in the news pictures are directly involved in re-election efforts, the implication is that this is free advertising for their campaigns. While there may be no conspiracy to do so, the message that is conveyed favors the status quo.

Another impression of political timing is the high profile agreement between the tribal council and New York State. In reading the media coverage of this agreement, I was struck by the rush to enter into this agreement, immediately before the tribal elections are to take place. Whatever happened to the message to Albany that elected tribal representatives, “trustees”, have to carry the terms of the agreement back to the tribal membership to get a sense of what the next step to take is? Secrecy of the high level meetings outweighed public input. Money was exchanged. A deal was made, no matter how early in the overall negotiation process one sees it.

Whoever the winning tribal chief candidate is, some of the work has already been cut out for her or him. A low voter turnout usually favors the incumbent. For that reason alone, a major change in the tribal election season may be due. The thirty-day tribal election cycle favors the experienced politician, or an incumbent. A sixty or ninety-day election cycle might try the patience of many Akwesasronon, but it would provide a more even-keeled format to create a better government.

The time for a primary election as well as a general tribal election is at hand. The current format jams the vanity-driven candidates into the same boat as the more balanced and hence electable candidates, landing all of them ashore on Election Day for voter selection. A primary election would eliminate the marginal candidates, leading to a runoff election that might result in the best candidates going head to head for final voter approval. The current thirty-day election cycle could never allow for two elections. Current candidates can sometimes only get 7 to 10 days usage out of their new yard signs, if they were ordered after the tribal caucus was held. A well-planned campaign is required for Election Day success.

Does the number of tribal election votes cast validate the success of the tribal government, or will the vast number of uncast votes reflect another message of the failure of the tribal election system to connect with the increasingly younger voter population?

Tribal voters decide with their ballots as well as their feet, or so it would seem.

-         Chaz Kader


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