HOLLYWOOD — Immokalee Reservation is getting closer to having a voting seat on Tribal Council.
During its Nov. 13 meeting, Council unanimously approved to send a request to the Secretary of the Interior for an election that could amend the Constitution and Bylaws of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and add a sixth Tribal Council member to represent Immokalee.
If the request is approved by the Secretary, who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), eligible voters tribalwide will decide whether to amend the Constitution and seat an Immokalee representative.
“Immokalee people have spoken and they believe it’s time for Immokalee to be on its own,” said Immokalee Reservation administrator Raynaldo Yzaguirre III during the Council meeting in Hollywood. “We want to be able to make our own decisions.”
Yzaguirre said 350 Tribal members live in the Immokalee area, and “we are growing every year.” Only 183 live on the reservation, of which only 118 are eligible voters, said Tribal Secretary LaVonne Rose. In comparison, Hollywood has 788 residents and 469 eligible voters; Big Cypress has 677 residents and 382 eligible voters; and Brighton has 643 residents and 350 eligible voters, Rose said.
If approved, the BIA would conduct the election. Notices would be mailed to eligible voters, and Tribal members would need to register with the BIA to vote in the election. In order for the election to be valid, 30 percent of those registered voters must cast a vote by absentee ballot, Rose said. There will be no polling sites.
If Tribal members vote to amend the Constitution and add a sixth Council member, the election of an Immokalee representative would depend on the timing of the secretarial election, Rose said. A special election could be held if the BIA approves the secretarial election quickly. If not, voting would take place during the general election in 2017.
“We are at the mercy of the government’s timeline,” she said.
Qualifications for candidates would be the same as Hollywood, Brighton and Big Cypress.
Tribal member concerns of adding an Immokalee representative included too many voices on Council and deadlock votes.
Rose said without a majority vote, resolutions would die.
Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola said the disparity between the number of voters in Immokalee and the larger reservations should be something Tribal members consider.
“It’s going to take four of my voters to equal one in Immokalee,” Councilman Osceola said.
He said, however, and others agreed, that Tribal members should decide.
“Immokalee has been in limbo long enough,” said Immokalee resident Benny Motlow. “Let the people decide.”