The only signs of a break-in were missing plastic tabs on the lids of ballot boxes, according to police files. The boxes held paper ballots from the primary election, as well as rosters that show who voted. The election results had already been counted and announced prior to the break-in, however, leaving many to wonder why someone would break in to the election office and tamper with the ballot storage boxes after the fact.
The June 6 primary election whittled down a large field of candidates running for chief, vice-chief, tribal council and school board in preparation for the final election to be held in September. The ballots are counted by an electronic voting machine as soon as polls close on Election Day, and the results promptly announced that night, according to election board chairwoman Shirley Reagan.
The ballots are then placed in plastic totes at the election office — one tote for each polling place — along with the roster of all the registered voters from each polling place, with a notation of those who voted in that election. A plastic tie tab is then inserted through the lid on the plastic tote.
The only sign of a break-in was the missing tie tabs, according to a police report on the incident. There were no signs of forced entry. There were also no signs of anything else being disturbed, according to a police report.
None of the ballots were missing or altered, Reagan said.
“We did a hand count of the ballots and they matched everything from the tally,” Reagan said. Reagan said it looked like the ballots hadn’t been touched or the boxes even opened — only the tabs removed.
“It would have been obvious if the ballots had been touched,” Reagan said.
Reagan said she doesn’t know why someone would have broken in and removed the tie tabs.
“You just speculate on the motive — either to cause a problem or maybe to look at some information,” Reagan said. Reagan said perhaps someone just wanted to stir up controversy and speculation. Or perhaps they wanted to see the roster of registered voters and who had voted at each polling place.
The election office had no dead bolt on the door. One has since been installed.
Skeptics speak up
The lack of an obvious motive has some voters in Cherokee skeptical of the election results. The mere fact that the ballot boxes were broken into gives pause to Bill Killian, a political activist and an unsuccessful candidate for chief.
“They are trying to pass this off like nothing serious has happened,” Killian said. Although results had been tabulated and announced prior to the break-in, there can be all sorts of problems with election results that require a hand recount. Although the machines keep a vote-by-vote record of each ballot, that alone isn’t fool proof, Killian said.
“One without the other is useless,” Killian said of the actual paper ballots. “If there is a problem, you go to the ballots and you count them. You can’t do that now.”
Candidates can file an election challenge or call for a hand recount up to 10 days following the election. The break-in wasn’t reported until that 10 day window had already passed, however. Killian believes the break-in was discovered sooner, but election officials purposely waited to report it until after the protest window had passed.
Reagan said no one noticed the missing tabs until Friday, June 15, the day it was reported to the Cherokee police. But Killian questions how that is possible. The totes were supposedly on the kitchen table in the small office.
“They walked past them every day. You would have seen them just walking past them,” Killian said.
Speculation that something is amiss with the election is particularly rampant among those who are dissatisfied with the victory of current Chief Michell Hicks, who scored 42 percent of the vote for chief and will advance to the final election. Hicks won a comfortable margin over the next closest vote getter, Patrick Lambert, who got 24 percent of the vote. Killian is a leading vocal critic of Chief Hicks on his blog and website, easternband.com.
Reagan said the break-in at the election office in no way compromises the results. The voting machines keep a record of each vote, which corresponds to each ballot. Election workers compared those following the break-in and everything matched up, Reagan said.
Here’s how the voting process works: Voters are given a paper ballot and make a mark beside the candidate of their choice. Voters then feed their ballot into a machine that scans the ballot and records the result, Reagan explained. The machine keeps a running tabulation of each vote on a ticker tape, kind of like a long cash register receipt. When the polls close, a special key is inserted into the voting machine, which closes out the voting and generates a final tally from the day, Reagan said.
Cherokee has eight polling places. Each polling place then calls in the result from their machine to the election board office.
“Then the tape from the machine has a police escort to the council house,” Reagan said.
The actual ballots are kept as well in case there is an election protest or request by a candidate for a hand recount, Reagan said. Each ballot can then be counted and compared to the results from the ticker tape and tally generated by the machine.
Despite the seemingly foolproof procedure, Killian, along with others who have left messages on his Web site, have a complex theory of how the election could have been rigged.
“The first mistake is assuming those machines are fail safe,” Killian said. “They are not. They can be tampered with.”
First, Killian believes the voting machines were rigged to give false results when generating the vote-by-vote record of the ballots captured on the ticker tape. Then, the break-in was staged to replace the actual paper ballots with a set of dummy ballots that correspond with the rigged election results. That way the paper ballots would match the ticker tape and machine tabulations in the case of a recount, Killian said.
Killian said it is possible that someone’s motive was purely to stir up a firestorm. However, he doubts that is the case.
“If they were going to do that, they would have taken some ballots and thrown them out in the road while they were at it,” Killian said, not just snipped the plastic tie tabs.