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Judge decides contested election for Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The results of the June 8 Leech Lake Band of Ojibewe general election will stand as certified by election officials.

Following a Thursday morning hearing at the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Headquarters in Cass Lake, Judge Heidi Drobnick found that the Leech Lake Tribal Council election results were valid.

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On June 8, Michael Bongo won re-election as secretary-treasurer with 1,300 votes; Robbie Howe-Bebeau won re-election as District 1 representative with 303 votes; and Steven White won the seat for District II representative with 237 votes. Incumbent District II Rep. Lyman Losh did not run for re-election.

On June 15, unsuccessful secretary-treasurer candidate Donald Headbird and unsuccessful District II candidate Deborah Tibbetts submitted notice of contest regarding the results. They based their contest on a series of allegations against Bongo, Howe-Bebeau and Losh. Their challenge included a number of allegations, but the scope of the hearing Thursday involved whether voting discrepancies such as double voting or voting outside the voters' precincts occurred.

Frank Bibeau, attorney for Tibbetts and Headbird, said he and election officials spent Wednesday night and early Thursday morning poring through the voting lists.

"We went through all the signing books for some of the precincts," Bibeau said.

They found three double votes, not enough to make a difference in the election. They also found more than 50 people who voted in precincts other than their official voting sites or by absentee ballots, but, again, not enough to cause a change in the results.

"The election looked good," Bibeau said. "I was afraid of double voting, but we only found three."

He said his clients wanted to clear the air and stem any rumors, and they were satisfied on the general vote count. He said the audience at the hearing applauded when the conclusion was announced that the election was fair.

"It brought a little more unity into the process," Bibeau said.

The hearing did not address other complaints Tibbetts and Headbird put forward, including allegations that:

E Bongo, Howe-Bebeau and Losh signed for gasoline vouchers, utility payments and loans from Tribal Gaming revenues.

E Electioneering by Bongo's sister inside the 200-foot perimeter of the polls in Cass Lake on election day.

E Absentee ballots sent with campaign literature supporting candidates.

The newly elected representative and re-elected representative and secretary-treasurer will be sworn at the Leech Lake Band's quarterly meeting in July.

Y mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

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