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Whiteskunk reelected to Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council

Selwyn Whiteskunk was reelected to the Ute Mountain Tribal Council in a special election Wednesday in Towaoc. (Courtesy Weenuche Smoke Signals)
Seven candidates ran for one open seat; 271 voters turned out for election

Selwyn Whiteskunk was reelected to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council in a special election Wednesday in Towaoc.

Seven candidates ran for the open seat.

According to unofficial results, Whiteskunk won with 83 votes, or 31%. He will serve a two-year term. There were 271 voters who cast ballots.

Whiteskunk’s nearest challenger was Archie House Jr., who had 46 votes, or 17% of total ballots cast.

The results of the other candidates were Gina Lopez, 41 votes; Leland Collins Sr., 36 votes; Angelita Berry, 23 votes; Prisllena Nightstarr, 21 votes; and Davis Wing, 21 votes.

Whiteskunk was a sitting tribal councilman when he decided to run for tribal chairman in the Oct. 14 election. He lost to incumbent Manuel Heart.

According to the tribe’s election laws, when a sitting council member runs for tribal chair, he or she must resign from their council seat, but can seek reelection.

A special election is held to fill the seat, and the winner serves the remaining two years of the term.

Whiteskunk has a long leadership background with the tribe and has worked for the tribe’s natural resources department and as a health administrator. He previously served as tribal chairman, and this will be his fifth term on the Tribal Council.

After losing his bid for tribal chair, Whiteskunk filed a complaint in tribal court claiming the election violated the election ordinance. A judge approved his application for a recount, which was conducted Oct. 28.

The recount for tribal chairman did not change the outcome, and incumbent Manuel Heart was confirmed as the winner out of six candidates.

Heart had 139 votes, compared with Whiteskunk’s second-place 109 votes, according to recount results. The original vote tally was 152 for Heart and 123 for Whiteskunk.

The recount recorded 65 invalid ballots, more than double the 26 invalid ballots recorded in the original tally on Election Day Oct. 14.

In an interview with The Journal, Whiteskunk was skeptical of the number of invalid ballots in the recount, and was critical of the recount process.

He attended the recount and believes an overly strict interpretation of ballot instructions led to more ballots being deemed invalid.

The ballot instructions indicate that a check mark or “X” be made within the square next to the candidate, Whiteskunk said. It could be interpreted that marks that go outside the box invalidate the ballot, he said.

Whiteskunk was present for the recount and said he became concerned that ballots appeared to be invalidated if the check mark or “X” was within the box but the mark also traveled outside the lines of the box.

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“It went outside the box, so it was not counted – an invalid mark, so it’s a spoiled ballot,” Whiteskunk said.

In a complaint submitted to tribe officials, he requested that the election be voided and that the procedures of the election be investigated by the election board or by an independent investigator.

“When there is inconsistency in the rules, you violate the rights of the people, you lose the trust of the people. It is time to change that,” Whiteskunk said. “I am not ashamed in what I am doing, people need to know.”

In an interview with The Journal Dec. 5, Heart acknowledged the concerns about what constitutes an invalid ballot.

Some fill in the box next to the candidate, others put an X or checkmark, he said, adding that the significance of marking “outside the box” is not well understood.

“It really needs to be addressed how you do that,” Heart said. “Elders don’t understand the outside the box stuff, so they’re going to mark it the way they want to. So that should not be an invalid vote, it should be counted as a vote.”

He said after the special election the full council will evaluate the election ordinance concerns and determine if it needs to be amended.

After being elected to tribal council Oct. 14, Conrad Jacket said he supported changing the election ordinance to allow for a runoff election system for the top two candidates. He said having too many candidates running for board seats and chairman is ineffective.