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Tribe preps for May election

Photo Credit: Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum



As April winds down, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and its members are gearing up for the May 4 Referendum Election set forth by Tribal Council. Next week, tribal members will be heading to the polls to vote to approve or disapprove the proposed resolution distributing the entire remaining balance of the Sisseton Settlement Funds to the tribal membership.

Tribal Council will be hosting an educational meeting for tribal members on Monday, May 1, to discuss with the membership their plans for the remaining funds if the referendum does not pass. In addition, a group of tribal members will be hosting their own meeting regarding the election the following day on Tuesday, May 2.

There has also been a rallying of tribal members on social media, using Facebook to promote the election encouraging fellow tribal members to show up to vote, regardless of what side they are voting for.

Due to the heighten interest in the election, the Southern Ute Election Board has also seen a sharp increase in the number of tribal members registering to vote. As of April 25 – the deadline to register to vote in this election – there were 978 registered tribal voters. That is compared to just 921 in the December 19, 2016 Tribal Council Runoff Election.

In a matter of four months there have been 57 tribal members who have registered to vote, compared to just 10 over the past three years.

To give the membership an idea of the voting population, there are 1,164 tribal members who are of age to be a registered tribal voter. Of the 1,164 that fall in that category, a total of 978, or 84 percent, of them are registered voters.

So what does that mean for the election?

Having such a high rate of registered voters is always a good thing; however, this election, like all the others, will come down to actual voter turnout.

Per the Election Board, in order for the election results to be valid at least 50 percent of all registered tribal voters must participate in the election; meaning at least 489 valid ballots must be cast as of 7 p.m. on May 4. Thereafter, the highest vote wins the election, being that it is a Special Election.

We know this because the ballot reads, “The decision of the electorate shall be final, PROVIDED, that not less than fifty percent of the registered voters vote in such referendum.”

The Drum took a look at voter turnout from past three years of Tribal General Elections.

  • 2014 General Election – 911 registered voters, 520 ballots cast, leading to a 57 percent voter turnout.
  • 2015 Special Election – 912 registered voters, 350 ballots cast, leading to a 37 percent voter turnout.
  • 2016 General Election – 918 registered voters, 428 ballots cast, leading to a 46.6 percent voter turnout.


Just looking back at just the last three years, we can see voter turnout has fluctuated quite a bit sometimes exceeding 50 percent and other times falling short by more than a few percentage points.


Going Forward

From now until Election Day tribal members can walk into the Election Board to vote early via emergency absentee ballot. For more information you can contact the Election Board at 970-563-4789.

On Election Day Thursday, May 4 polls will be open at SunUte Community Center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A certification of votes is scheduled to take place on Friday, May 5 at 10 a.m. in Tribal Council Chambers.

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