156 Kiowas barred from tribal voting
By Tony Thornton
Thursday, July 07, 2005
CARNEGIE --Jon Velie figures Iraq's old government has nothing on the Kiowa Tribe when it comes to election shenanigans.
"Saddam Hussein might have you killed if you voted against him, but at least you got to vote," Velie said.
For 156 Kiowa members, a July 9 tribal election offers no such opportunity.
The tribe's five-member ruling body decided last month to ignore a judge's order by preventing those people from voting and by keeping two candidates off the ballot.
The order, imposed by the U.S. Court of Indian Offenses, also delayed the election until August and approved the use of electronic balloting. Neither aspect will be obeyed, the Kiowa Business Committee decided.
Tribal administration spokeswoman Martha Koomsa Perez said under the Kiowa constitution, an internal hearing board has the final say on election matters.
Velie represents a group called the Kiowa Project for Democracy, which registered the new voters.
The tribe's election board decided that the people who rounded up new voters acted as registrars, which only the election board is authorized to do.
The would-be voters represent one-fourth the number who voted in the last tribal business committee election, Velie said.
In May, the election board also disqualified three candidates for the business committee, saying each owed the tribe money. Under the tribal constitution, no one whose debt exceeds two years can run for office.
The alleged debts stem from their employment under an administration later deemed invalid.
The three candidates say they weren't notified of the alleged debts until May 10, after the deadline passed to challenge their removal from the ballot.
Velie flew to Washington last week to meet with staffers for U.S. Reps. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, and Tom Cole, R-Moore, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and the Interior Department's solicitor general.
In a letter, Cole's office urged the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate the matter.
Perez said tribal leaders aren't concerned about BIA intervention, because all the recent actions were taken in accordance with the Kiowa constitution.
The bureau cut off funding for the Seminole Nation after that tribe in 2001 refused to let a segment serve on its voting council. Federal money was restored in 2002 after the tribe changed its policy.
"That was egregious, but it was a level below this situation," said Velie, who was involved in the Seminole power struggle.
"This is as bad as any third-world country we've ever heard of. It's inconceivable in America," he said.
Perez said neither the election board nor the business committee has done anything to rig the election.
"There's no favoritism in this. The only favoritism is at the polls. If you're the favorite at the polls, you're going to win," she said.
Ballots may be cast at the BIA's Anadarko Agency, the tribal headquarters in Carnegie, the Hobart fire station, and at the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache land-use building in Lawton.
Voters will decide three business committee seats and three housing authority seats. Also on the ballot is a proposal to enter financing agreements for a large casino on Interstate 44 just north of the Texas border.