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Grand Traverse tribe makes primary election absentee-only amid COVID-19

People in formal clothing stand on a stage with their hands raised, taking an oath.
Traverse City Record-Eagle file photo
Newly elected Tribal Council members take the oath on stage during the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Swearing-In Ceremony at Leelanau Sands Casino in 2016.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians will hold its primary election in April entirely via absentee ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The election is for the tribal chair and councilors and was pushed back from April 7 to April 21, according to an announcement on the tribe’s website.

Ballots will be mailed to all tribal citizens registered to vote in the tribe’s six-county service area, including Benzie, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Manistee, and Antrim Counties.

“No in-person voting will occur and no hand-delivered ballots will be accepted,” says the announcement. “All ballots shall be cast by mail. A properly addressed stamped return envelope will be included with each ballot.”

Much of the tribe’s government is shut down right now to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with only essential services continuing. The tribe also closed its casinos.

Percy Bird, a former tribal councilor, is running for tribal chair this year. He doesn’t think absentee-only voting will lessen turnout, but he says tribal citizens normally look forward to gathering for elections.

“Because we all came together at the same time, the same place to vote, it's a little chance to see people that you may not have seen in a while,” says Bird.

The tribe’s general election is currently scheduled for May 12, but the tribal election board is going to request that the tribal council push it back by two weeks, as well.