Puyallup chairman’s death complicates tribal election

Herman Dillon Sr. is dead, but according to some members of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, he still has a good chance of winning a seat on the tribal council in the tribe’s general election June 14.

Dillon, formerly the council chairman, was up for re-election when he died May 23 at age 82. He got the most votes in the tribe’s primary election in April, and when he died the general election ballots were already printed.

Rather than postpone the election and redo the ballots, the remaining members of the council decided to proceed with Dillon still listed as a candidate.

That has some tribal members so concerned they’ve been picketing the tribal headquarters building.

“People are saying, ‘Vote for Herman as a show of respect,’” said Lucia Earl-Mitchell, one of those protesting. “His family is the biggest in the tribe. It’s very possible he could get the most votes.”

The problem, they say, is that if Dillon is re-elected, posthumously, tribal council members will have the right to appoint anybody they want to fill his seat, without the input of the tribe’s general membership.

“We think this election should be a true reflection of the will of the membership,” Earl-Mitchell said.

Tribal spokesman John Weymer said he won’t be surprised if Dillon wins.

“The respect of the dead is extremely important to tribal members,” he said. “Herman was very well loved. People might vote for him now out of respect and for love of the guy.”

If that happens, Weymer said, the council is completely within its rights to appoint a council person.

“It’s in our constitution,” he said. “It’s perfectly legitimate.”

The way tribal elections work, the top four candidates in the primary advance to the general election. This year’s field of primary candidates was narrowed to Dillon, Annette Bryan, Timothy Reynon and Maggie Edwards, who’s an incumbent.

The two candidates who get the most votes June 14 will fill the two vacant seats on the council, unless one of them is Dillon.

Protesters think the election should be postponed. Dillon’s name should be scratched from the ballot, they say, and the primary candidate who received the next most votes — a woman named Elsie Thomas — should be moved up to the general ballot.

“We’re not saying we’re in favor of Elsie, in particular, we’re just saying we’re in favor of doing the right thing,” Earl-Mitchell said. “We all have great respect for Herman, but let’s not vote for someone who can’t possibly serve.”

“Our protest is not in disrespect,” she said. “It’s to let people know what’s going on. ‘We, the people,’ elect our leaders. It’s a slap in the face to have the council tell us, ‘Stand down. We got this.’”

Weymer said he does not think council members are likely to change their minds.

“You’ve got to understand,” he said, “there’s already been absentee votes sent in.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693