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Oglala Sioux Tribe to review election process

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - The Oglala Sioux Tribe will bring together a three-judge panel to review the tribal election code and regulations, procedures and the election appeals process.

The OST executive committee, by resolution, authorized the review, which could resolve any flaws in the election process to prevent any confusion and controversy that occurred during the 2006 election process from happening again.

The resolution calls for the review of the tribal constitution and the election code, review of the election board and court of election appeals; and the panel will be asked to determine any weaknesses in the roles and functions of the board and court in resolving elections, according to the resolution.

The intent of the review is not to establish criteria or seek a recommendation for a new election. There are factions on Pine Ridge that continue to request that a new election be held, but none is planned, tribal officials claim.

The OST fell under criticism due to problems and confusion over legal procedures from the October 2006 primary through the November 2006 general election.

Controversy began during the

primary election because of im-properly worded ballots, which required one district to hold a new election. However, the election board determined that the

ballots' wording did not affect

the outcome of reservation-

wide candidates.

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Earlier in 2006, the impeachment of former President Cecelia Fire Thunder in August set the wheels in motion for controversy when she argued that the procedure that removed her was illegal and did not follow the constitution or rule of procedure.

Alex White Plume, who filled Fire Thunder's seat for the remainder of her term in office, received the most votes in the primary election but was removed from the Nov. 7, 2006, general election by the election board because a background search revealed that he had been convicted of a felony. No person is allowed to run for office or serve the tribe if they are convicted of a felony.

White Plume disputed his removal, and the election appeals board ruled that a new primary and election process should be undertaken. The tribal council subsequently determined that the election should take place as planned, without White Plume on the ballot. White Plume was removed from the general election ballot five days before the election.

Voters selected John Steele as the new president, but after the election White Plume, while still in office, ordered that a new election process take place. He argued that the appeals board had ruled that new elections should be held.

It was not certain which administration would be in charge after the general election. Each side interpreted election codes and regulations and the constitution differently, and the Steele administration and the new council took the oath of office on Dec. 3, 2006. It was not certain whether the OST court would have a new chief judge, or who would be eligible to swear the president and council into office.

Confusion over which administration was actually in charge lingered until the BIA recognized the Steele administration in mid-December.

The executive committee is asking that the review take place so the tribe can follow through and improve the codes and rules under which elections are held. The judges are asked to make recommendations that will allow the tribal council to take action for changes or corrections in the tribal election codes and regulations.

The panel will meet in Pine Ridge when it is assembled. The three judges have been selected, only one has been contacted. Dan Naranjo, attorney, mediator and arbitrator from San Antonio, Texas, has been contacted. Other panelists that will be contacted are John St. Clair, chief judge of the Court of Indian Offenses of the Wind River Reservation, and John Throne, Court of Appeals judge for the state of Utah.

The BIA has agreed to financially contribute to the review process at the request of the executive committee; however, the bureau will not be directly involved in the process.

The executive committee resolution directs the OST secretary, Court of Election Appeals and Election Board to cooperate with the panel review by providing any documents the panel requests.

No timeline has been set for the review process. Steele was on travel at press time and not available for comment.