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Crows hold first-ever primary

CROW AGENCY, Mont. ? In a special session on Sept. 21, the Crow Tribal Legislature set the dates for the tribe's upcoming primary and general elections for Oct. 19 and Nov. 9, respectively.

The Sept. 5 resignation of tribal Chairman Clifford Birdinground prompted a quick fix by the legislature to establish election guidelines and hold new elections, including the tribe's first-ever primary.

Provisions in the tribe's July 2001 constitution formed the legislature last year. The new body had to act quickly when Birdinground resigned on Sept. 5, as he had vetoed the legislature's recently passed election ordinance. The former chairman's resignation letter was not made public until Sept. 11.

House Speaker Ben Cloud said nobody knew which ordinance to follow so the legislature established the quick fix. There were no statutes to follow for running an election before the special session ordinance was passed.

The primary election will narrow the field of candidates for chairman to two. In past elections, the field was wide open, with the top vote-getter elected chairman. The new constitutional changes are in place to make sure the new chairman will be elected by a majority of the voters.

Cloud said that the tribe's chairman or chairwoman has never been chosen by a majority of the tribal members in the past.

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Birdinground was charged with conspiracy, three counts of theft and one count of bribery in a car exchange scam that included owners of a dealership in Billings. He pleaded not guilty to the charges; his brother Alexander Birdinground and co-defendant Wayne Kimmett pleaded not guilty in early September.

The Crow constitution states that a new election must be held within 60 days of an office becoming vacant. The chairmanship will be the only one on the ballot for the two elections, while the special legislative ordinance will be invalid after the elections.

Tribal officials have said that the intent of the primary election is to soften the impact of politics in the election process, although the tribal membership is not used to two elections.

Past elections on the Crow Reservation have been ripe with bribery and coercion; which the new resolution is intended to stop, officials said. The legislature will act as a watchdog over the executive branch, with the intent of stopping election fraud and irregularities.

In the past, tribal employment jumped as the incumbent hired people who would vote for him or her. And the tribal secretary is no longer the sole person that will watch over the elections, because, as tribal members and officials said, there was some vote tampering in the past.

Vincent Goes Ahead is currently the tribe' acting chairman. He was Birdinground's elected vice chairman and assumed some of the former's duties when Birdinground was originally indicted.