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More than 500 turn out for Comanche elections

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LAWTON, Okla. – Comanche voters retained their tribal administrator by a single vote in a run-off at the annual general council election while postponing the approval of a $40 million budget for 2011.

“We believe we had a record attendance and this is the largest general council we have had for some time,” Michael Burgess, tribal chairman told attendees.

More than 500 registered tribal voters chose to keep current Tribal Administrator Willie Nelson, who defeated Johnnie Waqua with a vote of 220-219 from an original field of six nominees.

Technology made a debut at the meeting when the tribe used a new wristband system to register attending members who had eligible voter standing. The wristlets were an addition to the 14,000-member tribe’s annual meeting. The technology allowed Comanches to vote on a number of issues that had previously been done by acclamation.

It was also the first time the Comanches live-streamed the meeting so voters outside of the eight-county district could watch the proceedings. Burgess said developments could allow absentee voters (the largest number of voters) to participate in the elections in the future.

One tribal voter, Bertram Stilwell of Lawton, said while the process took more time, voter participation was key.

“I’m Comanche and I always thought if you didn’t vote, then they should take some of your per cap (annuity) away,” he said, as he lined up to vote.

In addition to retaining Nelson for another one-year term, voters chose to retain their legal counsel of Hobbs, Strauss, Dean and Walker LLP by a vote of 296-97.

Hobbs, Straus, Dean and Walker attorney Louie Norman said the firm had recently blocked further construction on a training site by the U.S. Army on the tribe’s sacred Medicine Bluffs site in nearby Fort Sill, among other contributions.

Before a quorum was lost, Comanche voters approved a move to lease 25-acres of tribal land to Sia, an ethno-ornithological initiative that is home to injured birds. Sia Director William Voelker said voters also re-affirmed the group’s official cultural status with the tribe, which receives no tribal funding.

“We think that (reaffirmation) is the greater achievement,” he said.

Tribal members were given a general overview of operations for the 2009-10 year.

Crime in Comanche country was below state averages, with incidence of violent crime dropping slightly in 2008 from 2009, according to law enforcement reports. No incidence of rape, murder or forcible rape was reported during the 2010 year, officials said. Aggravated assault, property crime, larceny and burglary remained the most common crimes in Comanche tribal jurisdiction.

The meeting ended due to a lack of quorum and will reconvene May 8, officials said.