By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Chippewa Cree tribal members have approved five proposed amendments to the tribe's constitution and bylaws.
According to unofficial results released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs today, voters by a 95-64 vote passed an amendment allowing the tribal council to appoint the chief tribal judge and two associate judges. Those judges are now elected to four-year terms. The amendment also gives the council the authority to appoint a chief appellate court judge, who would appoint an unspecified number of appellate panel judges.
Four other amendments on the ballot passed by much greater margins.
The secretarial election was held Tuesday at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
Voters voted 125-31 to adopt an amendment to move the tribal council primaries, now held in June, to October, reducing the lame-duck period for tribal council members from six months to one month.
The second amendment on the ballot, to increase the maximum penalty for misdemeanor convictions in tribal court from six months in jail and a fine of $500 to a year in jail and a fine of $5,000, passed 105-54.
Voters voted 137-22 to approve an amendment to prohibit tribal members who have been convicted of a felony in federal or state court from running for tribal office within five years of the end of their sentence. It also applies to people who have been convicted in state, tribal or federal court of the use, possession or sale of illegal drugs.
The fourth amendment on the ballot, to delete a provision from the constitution revoking tribal membership if a person has been away from the reservation for 10 years without coming before the tribal council to apply for an extension of his or her membership, passed 106-51.
BIA field officer James Montes, who administered the election, said the issue of appointing judges instead of electing them is somewhat controversial.
"Some folks think there should be a separation of power. And with this appointment of judges, you're kind of getting away from that separation of power," Montes said. "But on the other hand, you know, there were a lot of individuals that felt that the judges should be more qualified rather than elected."
Chief Judge Gilbert Belgarde has said that he thought if he amendment passed he would be replaced.
He said Wednesday that if the amendment passed, he was considering requesting a buyout from the tribe for the rest of his term.
"Heck, give me my paycheck and I'll get out. Appoint your new judge now," Belgarde said.
Belgarde could not be reached for comment today.
Montes said votes were not counted until after the mail arrived Thursday afternoon to allow absentee ballots, which had to be postmarked by Jan. 6, a chance to arrive. By law, the BIA must administer a secretarial election.
Montes said the federal regulations governing special elections say any voter may challenge the results within three days following the posting of results. If there are no protests by Monday at 5 p.m., he said, the results will be forwarded to the regional BIA office in Billings for final approval.
There have been no challenges of election results so far, Montes said. Last week Russell Standing Rock, spokesman for the Chippewa Cree Grassroots People, said a petition was circulating among the group's members in support of a request for an injunction against the election he intended to file on Jan. 5.
Althea Gopher, a clerk at tribal court, said today there have been no requests for injunctions against the election.
Standing Rock could not be reached for comment today.
Montes said Wednesday that enough voters had turned out to meet a federal requirement that 30 percent of those registered to vote must actually vote in order for the election to be considered legitimate.
About 3,000 election notices and registration forms were sent out to the tribe's adult members, Montes said. About 12 percent of them - 374 - registered, and 43 percent of those - 161 - voted.