Voters of the Bristol Bay region have a cash incentive to get out and vote — a consortium of 15 tribes known as the United Tribes of Bristol Bay is offering $20,000 to communities in the region that have the highest turnout and most-improved turnout in the Nov. 8 election, compared with 2018. The money will either go to the village’s school or to the tribe to support cultural programming.
Although it has the appearance of vote-buying, the cash isn’t pertaining to voting for a particular candidate and the money doesn’t go directly to individuals. U.S. law makes it illegal to offer or “make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate,” or solicit, accept, or receive such an expenditure “in consideration of his vote or the withholding of his vote.” Violations of this law are subject to fine and imprisonment. State law is less clear.
The communities in the region, however, may be influenced by the prize enough to commit ballot harvesting or illegal voting. For some communities, such as Ekwok, with its registered voting base of 75, or Clark’s Point, with its 45 voters, could do very well, and the cash would likely just be passed through to families or individuals of the village as bonuses, with no oversight.
Such a cash-for-vote scheme is not unusual in rural Alaska. In 1994, the North Slope Borough reimbursed voters for 10 gallons of gasoline if they voted, but the judge said it wasn’t a violation of state election law to pay people to vote, even though the gas reimbursement was specified for Natives only. In addition, a postcard sent to Doyon Limited shareholders offered entry into a $1,0000 cash prize drawing to those who submitted proof of voting, and the postcard mentioned that the Alaska Federation of Natives overwhelmingly endorsed Democrat Tony Knowles for governor.
A complaint was filed that year over those actions but was dismissed by the judge after the election was over and Knowles had eeked out a win. The difference between Knowles’ votes, 87,693, and Republican Jim Campbell’s votes, 87,157, was 536 votes. Jack Coghill of the Alaskan Independence Party was the spoiler that year for Republicans, getting 39,331 votes and handing Knowles the win.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a Tribal consortium of 15 federally recognized Tribes in Bristol Bay, representing over 80 percent of the region’s population.
“Bristol Bay Tribes founded UTBB in 2013 after recognizing the need for a united voice in our longtime efforts to protect our way of life,” the group explains on its website. UTBB works in partnership with the Native American Rights Fund, a nonprofit firm that defends the rights of tribes and Native Americans nationwide.
The United Tribes of Bristol Bay members include: Togiak Traditional Council, Twin Hills Village Council, Manokotak Village Council, Curyung Tribal Council, Ekuk Village Council, Clark’s Point Village Council, Aleknagik Traditional Council, Portage Creek Village Council, New Stuyahok Traditional Council, New Koliganek Village Council, Levelock Village Council, Nondalton Village Council, Pilot Point Tribal Council, Pedro Bay Village Council and Chignik Lake Tribal Council.