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Candidate calls for Yankton primary investigation

LAKE ANDES, S.D. -- A candidate in the Yankton Sioux tribal primary wants a federal investigation of election fraud after the disappearance of a Lake Andes ballot box, a 100 vote discrepancy in the tallies and a delayed vote count.

Farris Joseph, who ran with four others for the tribal treasurer's seat in the July 23 primary, said the ballot box for the Lake Andes district, one of three districts on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, disappeared after the polls closed.

Joseph said the vote tally for the Lake Andes district was questionable since it showed only 266 voters voting for the tribal chairman and vice chairman's seats while 366 votes were tallied for the treasurer's race.

He said the entire election was conducted in violation of the tribe's election ordinance.

Joseph, who challenged the issue in tribal court one day after the primary, alleged the tribe's election commission violated the ordinance by allowing its members to be present at the polls during voting hours and allowed at least one member to serve as a poll worker. Committee members failed to provide the results in a timely fashion under ordinance deadlines which require the ballots to be counted between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m., Joseph said.

Results which are certified by BIA officials in Lake Andes, weren't available for several hours after the late night deadline and one ballot box in the very city where the BIA offices are located disappeared for several hours, he said.

Looking at the final numbers, Joseph said he noticed the 100-vote difference in the votes cast for the tribal chairman's seat and vice chairman's seat and those for treasurer.

BIA Superintendent Tim Lake indicated there appeared to be a problem with the tallies a little after 10 p.m. "It appears there are 100 votes at Lake Andes that didn't exist," Lake told Joseph.

Joseph decided to file a complaint in tribal court challenging the results. He said Lake attempted to talk him out of it, but he filed it Thursday, July 25.

In the complaint Joseph alleged election fraud. He asked the court for an injunction against certifying the results of the treasurer's position, declare the election results invalid until an investigation was conducted and order a new election.

Candidates have until noon the day following an election to challenge the results, but because he didn't get the results early enough, Joseph said his challenge was too late.

Dennis Rucker, a council candidate, did file a challenge with the tribal election committee prior to the deadline.

"I asked for a total recount," Joseph said. "Nobody found out about the 100 vote discrepancy until it was too late," he said.

The election committee attempted to prevent qualified candidates from running for office, he said, adding some of the candidates had held a prior office and were considered unscrupulous by influential tribal members.

"One day prior to the election, the same election committee sent a letter telling them none of them could run," he said.

The issue went to tribal court where a tribal judge ordered the election committee to follow the tribe's election ordinance allowing the candidates to run.

"They gave in and let them run," Joseph said.

"It was really tough for me to help them fight, but I looked at the fundamental issue -- breaking the election regulations," Joseph said.

The polls close at 6 p.m. and the election commission has until 10 p.m. to count the ballots for the tribe's three districts at the polling sites. They are later taken to the BIA offices where the ballots are examined and results are certified.

Ballot boxes for two districts arrived after 10 p.m. The ballot box for the Lake Andes district disappeared for nearly two hours, Joseph said.

Joseph's complaint cited the 100-vote discrepancy was in the Lake Andes District. Ballots cast by tribal members who might have skipped some races are still considered valid so tribal members may have opted not to vote for any of the candidates running for chairman or vice chairman, but Joseph said it is unlikely 100 people failed to cast votes in either race for the tribe's two top offices.

Joseph's request for an expedited hearing on the matter was denied on July 26 and an order dismissing his challenge was granted Aug.1.

When Joseph hadn't received notice the court action was dismissed, he went to see the tribal judge Aug. 9 and the judge handed him the order.

Joseph said his attorney explained to the judge that because of the political nature of the case, Tribal Judge Mark Scarmon should have disqualified himself from the case.

"If they don't have fairness in an election, there isn't any fairness here. Fairness demands a thorough investigation be done," Joseph said.

"Election fraud can be taken to federal court."

The 100-vote discrepancy suggests the vote count was loaded in favor of the front runner in the five-man treasurer's race, he said.

BIA Superintendent Tim Lake considers the election snafu "a simple clerical error,"

said Joseph who wants federal authorities to launch an investigation into fraud allegations and declare results invalid.

Although the tribal judge dismissed Joseph's complaint, he said he won't stop in tribal court. He said he plans to file suit in federal court.

With the Sept. 6 general election drawing nearer, Joseph said he hopes there will be a legal remedy to hold another vote before that date.

Incumbent Madonna Archambeau faces Stephen Cournoyer Jr. in the race for chairman; Robert Cournoyer will face Hugo Zephier, and longtime treasurer Harlan Horn Eagle will face Art Standing Cloud for that seat as the general election ballot stands.