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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe announces appeal in special election


AKWESASNE - The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has announced that the results of a July 13 special election have been appealed, after the results of the original June 1 election were appealed and the tribe decided to hold another vote.

According to unofficial results, incumbent Randy Hart defeated challenger Beverly Cook for tribal chief in the June 1 election, 436 votes to 376 votes, but Ms. Cook defeated Mr. Hart in the special election by a margin of 477 to 451.

According to a news release from the tribe, dated July 19, the election board received an appeal for the special election and the situation is currently under investigation.

“The Election Board cannot certify the results of the recent election until the appeal is resolved,” the release states. “Once the investigation has been completed, the Election Board will announce their decision.”

On Monday, election board member Katrina Jacobs declined to discuss the situation or answer any questions related to either of the appeals.

But, an Akwesasne resident close to the Hart campaign said things have not felt right since a May 4 caucus when Mr. Hart was nominated for tribal chief but eventually failed to get on the ballot. The resident asked to remain anonymous because, while she helped gather information for the latest appeal, she did not actually file it.

“I really took my time with this,” she said of gathering information. “We were very wary of the circumstances of the decision of the first appeal.”

Several community members were interested in attempting to challenge the decision of the first appeal, she said, though at the time, Mr. Hart was interested on focusing solely on campaigning.

She indicated there was more than one appeal for the special election, and another Akwesasne resident who also filed an appeal said hers was heard Monday night and another hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday.

“They’re not going to have an answer [yet],” the other resident said, indicating the tribe had not yet reached a decision. She also noted the appeals are separate, although they make similar arguments.

Those arguments include a charge in Ms. Cook’s original appeal regarding the presence and use of campaign paraphernalia in the voting area on the day of the June 1 election. While the tribal election ordinance prohibits such items at the polling place on election day, the ordinance allows election workers to bar from the premises anyone found with the contraband.

The resident, however, said affidavit letters submitted with Ms. Cook’s appeal - written by several election workers, including a minor, which is another issue in the latest appeal - shows that election workers appeared to be fine with the election results and the process and did not kick anybody out for possessing paraphernalia.

Though at least three of the letters describe workers observing cards with the names of Mr. Hart and sub-chief candidate Shelley Jacobs, the resident said workers did not come forward about what they saw until days after the first election when the appeal was filed.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” she said. “The only thing Randy is guilty of is campaigning.”

The resident also alleges the special election was intentionally swayed in Ms. Cook’s favor, as she said several Hart supporters told her they went to vote and were not treated well or requested absentee ballots and their requests were either ignored or the ballots were lost.

Others said they would have voted for Mr. Hart had they been notified of the special election.

“They were basically denied their right to vote,” she said. “You just kind of wonder what would’ve happened had this been handled properly.”

The resident said Mr. Hart was nominated for a tribal chief position during the May 4 caucus and subsequently submitted his paperwork for a blood test and background check. He also had to submit an affidavit of eligibility, even though he already served on the tribal council and already had a document on file.

But, the resident said, Mr. Hart got so caught up working for the council that he forgot to file the document and missed the deadline, thus putting him off the ballot and relegating him as a write-in candidate.

“He takes full responsibility for that,” she said.

However, the resident said a caucus must be held for a special election, according to the election ordinance, although one was not held prior to the July 13 election - with the intent, the resident alleges, of making sure Mr. Hart could not get back on the ballot and remained a write-in candidate.

“That is our belief,” she said. “Obviously, they haven’t told us [why there wasn’t a caucus].”

While Mr. Hart is the incumbent, the resident said he met with opposition when he first came into office with a platform of accountability, financial reform and fiscal responsibility.

Though the changes were generally good for the reservation, she said the people were still resistant to new ways.

“It was a big change for them,” she said, alleging that tribal government staff feel Mr. Hart is the enemy. “People just resist and do not like change.”

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