On Wednesday, April 6, 2016, the Election Board counted votes at the Isleta Recreation Center on a proposed amendment to the Pueblo of Isleta Tribal Constitution. Voters had to decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment to the lower the Isleta blood-quantum from one-half (1/2) to one-quarter (1/4).
The outcome was a resounding YES. By a margin of 221 votes, Isleta tribal members approved the amendment. The final tally was 775 Voting YES, 554 Voting NO, (3 spoiled ballots).
1500 tribal members registered to vote; 1332 tribal members voted. The Election Board disqualified 22 ballots because voters did not sign the envelope containing their ballot.
To be a member of the Pueblo, the Isleta Constitution requires a person to have at least one-half (1/2) Isleta Indian blood. The Isleta Tribal Council is also empowered to accept a person as a member, if a person has at least one-half (1/2) Indian blood from any Indian tribe. The Council has exclusive jurisdiction to decide membership issues.
Last year, on June 15, 2015, tribal members asked the Isleta Tribal Council to request the Secretary of Interior to conduct an election on the blood quantum issue. No one on the Council would make a motion on the request. The Council members were: President Frank Lujan, Vice-President Michael Allen Lente, Secretary Barbara Sanchez, Verna Teller, Betty Lente, Fernando Abeita and Ulysses Abeita.
The Council’s refusal to request a Secretarial Election forced tribal members to gather signatures for their petition to amend the Constitution. The Isleta Tribal Constitution allows tribal members to bypass the Council and request a Secretarial Election directly by a petition signed by at least one-third (1/3) of eligible voters.
Determined tribal members worked hard to gather enough signatures for their petition. Finally, on November 16, 2015, Joanne Rael, Freida C. Apodaca and Attorney Helen Padilla submitted the petition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on behalf of the petitioners. The group called themselves the “Isleta Pueblo Tribal Member Coalition.”
After receiving the petition, the BIA had to determine whether the petition was valid. The BIA afforded tribal members an opportunity to challenge signatures on the petition. The BIA also established a three (3) member Election Board to conduct the election process.
The BIA provided the Isleta Tribal Council the opportunity to appoint a tribal member to the Election Board. But, the Council failed to appoint anyone. This allowed the BIA to make their own appointment.
The BIA selected Deigo Lujan, a tribal member, to serve on the Board. The group submitting the petition selected former Isleta Appellate Court Justice Francine Jaramillo to serve on the Board. Raymond Fry served as Chairman of the Election Board. Fry is the BIA’s Superintendent of the Northern Pueblo Agency.
Approximately, 150 tribal members sat in the bleachers to witness the vote count. Governor Eddie Paul Torres failed to attend. Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi and Lt. Governor Isidor Abeita were present along with Tribal Sheriffs Ray Jojola and Benny Piro. Council members Verna Teller, Michael Allen Lente, Fernando Abeita and Ulysses Abeita were also present.
At 6:00 pm, vendors that provided the machine to count ballots explained how the machine functioned. Tribal members asked a variety of questions on how the machine worked.
Tribal members also raised concerns on the registration process. Voter registration occurred entirely by mail. Voters were also required to vote by mail. There were no actual polling sites. Tribal members complained that the lack of polling sites deprived many people from registering to vote.
ReGina Joyce Zuni questioned whether the Election Board would be fair because she felt that Francine Jaramillo and Deigo Lujan were in favor of lowering the blood quantum. Zuni demanded to know whether the Board would allow audience members to examine any ballots hand counted by the Board. Fry responded that federal regulations did not allow anyone except for the Election Board to count ballots.
Zuni also complained that the US Post Office did not properly handle three (3) ballots that she tried to mail in earlier that morning – (on the day of the vote count). She stated that she video recorded her exchange with the postal service. Raymond Fry informed tribal members that they would have five (5) calendar days to raise challenges to the election process.
After the tedious process of removing the ballots from the envelopes, vendors fed the ballots into the machine that counted the votes. The machine rejected ballots that it was unable to read.
The Election Board examined the rejected ballots and counted them by hand. In total, the machine counted 1,243 ballots and the Board counted 89 ballots by hand. The Board declared three (3) of the ballots as spoiled.
Unless there is a successful challenge to the election results, the results will become final on the 45th day after the date of the Secretarial Election. This would take us to May 21, 2016. The Secretary of Interior can finalize the election results sooner.