EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. ? Charges of fraud surrounding a primary election on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation may signal the end of long-time national leader Gregg Bourland's tenure as tribal chairman.
Bourland finished third in a primary election held Aug. 13. He finished 12 votes behind the number two candidate, former tribal chairman Wayne Ducheneaux. The leading candidate was current tribal vice chairman Harold Frazier. But because of alleged ballot problems and irregularities within the election board's management, Bourland asked for a recount.
The board spent an entire day cross-checking names on the voter sign-in lists of every precinct in every district and uncovered names missing, signatures possibly forged and more votes than voters in some districts.
"I don't mind losing, I just don't want to lose this way, [to] cheating," Bourland said.
As discrepancies arose during the recount, Bourland described them as fraud while Ducheneaux called them were technicalities. If fraud were discovered that district would have to undergo another primary election; a technicality would not require a reelection.
This was a record year for candidates running for the chairman's position, as Bourland faced 15 opponents. More than 2,000 people went to the polls, another record.
Bourland said that if new elections were to take place in a couple of the districts where he has a stronghold, he felt confident he would pass Ducheneaux. The top two vote getters will face off in the November general election.
He said many of those who ran for chairman drained votes from him, but the second time around, some might choose to drop out of the race, potentially helping him.
As Ducheneaux carefully watched the proceedings with his attorney, he joked about a lawsuit should he lose. He didn't elaborate. In the 1998 election Bourland beat Ducheneaux, a former chairman and president of the National Congress of American Indians. Ducheneaux filed a lawsuit in tribal court asserting that election fraud had taken place. The suit was dismissed.
Bourland won by 18 votes in 1998.
Now in this ironic turn-around, Ducheneaux said he was waiting to see what happened. "If I get beat that stinks. If I win that's good," he said.
In a memorandum to the election board Bourland requested that it suspend the election process and ask the tribal council for a new election or continue the election canvass and take responsibility for illegal changes in the ordinance and possible voter fraud.
Bourland stated in the memo that more than one affidavit ballot list didn't add up to the same number of voters as the absentee voters lists. He also stated that the election board attempted to amend the election ordinance to set new deadlines. Only the tribal council can amend the election ordinance, he said.
"You do not have the authority to amend the ordinance. If you continue in this manner you are breaking the law," Bourland stated in the memo.
At one point in the recount proceedings, Dave Hump, an election board member, couldn't find his name on his district's signed voters list. He said he voted and remembered signing the voter list, but couldn't find his name. Other names on the lists appeared to be signed by the same person, not the voter as is required, it was charged.
While board members tried to explain the confusion as a possible technical error, Bourland accused them of not taking their responsibilities seriously.
"I am disappointed by the election board's behavior at this point. Board members need to be honest, impartial and fair. You need to take this election seriously," Bourland said.
None of the candidates could challenge any of the affidavit voters because the ballot was not attached to the affidavit, which is required. Voters may vote by affidavit if they are not on the voter registration list and are members of the tribe and live in the district in which they plan to vote.
The board declared that if one name was challenged, the entire list of 125 affidavit voters would be thrown out. They had no way of knowing which ballot belonged to a specific voter.
Bourland said a challenge to any name would be political suicide.
Both the second- and third-place finishers for chairman are nationally known. Bourland is a frequent visitor to Washington D.C. and visible face at most national gatherings. Ducheneaux, present director of housing at Cheyenne River Reservation, is known throughout national housing organizations.
But they both finished behind lesser-known Harold Frazier, who topped the two by some 90 votes. Frazier, the current vice chairman of the tribe, campaigned hard while the other two campaigned very little. Ducheneaux said he didn't even make a phone call.
Ducheneaux, a perennial candidate for chairman, said there were problems with the tribe, but didn't go into detail. "I will see what they are when I get in."
Frazier on the other hand said people have been telling him that housing, rent, health issues and roads were just some examples of people's concerns.
"The number of candidates for chairman shows people want a change. I hear that from people," Frazier said. "I campaigned hard. I got out and talked and listened to people."