Election Commission chairman resigns amid controversy

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
07/05/2011 02:35 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The chairman of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission submitted his resignation letter Tuesday morning, citing that media outlets have given him a negative public perception during the ongoing principal chief election controversy.

Roger L. Johnson tendered his resignation around 6 a.m. It states that his resignation is effective July 5.

In it, Johnson states that the commission is satisfied that it has performed its duties in complete compliance with the statutes and as ordered by the court. However, because of “misinformation, speculation and conclusions,” the general perception is that the EC is “incompetent and ineffective.”

“The perceptions of favoritism, fraud and incompetence resulting from irresponsible and inaccurate media reports subsequent to the unofficial election results announced early Sunday morning and throughout the process have unreasonably damaged my honor, character and integrity. For me to continue as an effective commissioner under these circumstances is impossible,” Johnson states.

Johnson states he trusts the remaining four commissioners and his successor will continue with the election process until it’s complete.

He states the paramount reason for his decision to resign was the “untrue, irresponsible and inaccurate” articles reported by some of the media, especially the Tulsa World.

Johnson states the newspaper published that “the recount changed the result” when it reported the certification of Principal Chief Chad Smith as the winner of the election on July 27. The only official recount that took place occurred by court order on June 30, Johnson states.

He states the Tulsa World also reported in a photo caption for Smith that he was initially declared the winner on June 25 by a margin of fewer than 10 votes.

“Fact, the commission never declared Chief Smith the winner Saturday night or anytime Sunday morning. However, at approximately 7 a.m., Sunday morning we announced unofficially that Mr. Baker was ahead by 11 votes. Obviously the Tulsa World and others don’t understand the meaning of the word unofficial,” Johnson states.

He adds that even though the Tulsa World reported in an article regarding the June 25 election that “counting and recounting” took place during an “all-night session,” there was only one vote count and never a recount of any ballots the night of June 25 or early morning June 26.

“These inaccurate statements by the Tulsa World set in motion the perception of wrongdoing by the election commission,” he states.

In a CN Supreme Court hearing, Johnson states, the EC proved to the court that election documents had been secured by a “chain of custody and not tampered with.”

“The court agreed that the two entries into the vault after lockdown to obtain tabulation information did not compromise the security of the election documents,” he states. “However, during my testimony concerning the vault breaches, it was reported by the Cherokee Phoenix, that I had lied under oath and testified that the vault had not been opened after the initial lockdown. This statement as reported by the Phoenix is absolutely false. It is obvious to me that they made a politically motivated decision to discredit me. And for that, I am crushed.”

In his June 30 testimony before the Supreme Court, Johnson said the ballots were secured in the vault at approximately 7 a.m. Sunday morning and no one had been in the vault.

“We have not been in the vault to observe those ballots or anything. They haven’t been touched,” he told Chief Justice Darell Matlock, according to testimony transcripts.

This statement was used by the Phoenix in its reporting of the hearing and for Johnson’s statement.

During the same hearing, EC Clerk Joyce Gourd testified that the vault had been opened twice after it was reportedly secured on June 26. She testified with the commission’s permission she opened the vault for Terry Rainey of Automated Election Services.

Principal Chief Chad Smith said Johnson’s resignation letter speaks for itself.

“I think he is a man of the highest integrity and best will. But he’s been challenged, and he believes it’s what’s best for the process, for him to step aside,” Smith said.

Principal Chief-elect Bill John Baker said he appreciated Johnson’s service as EC chairman.

“I appreciate him overlooking a recount election that was fair and accurate,” Baker said.

The Tribal Council appointed Johnson to the EC. His term began in March 2008 and was set to expire Oct. 1, 2011. Because the council appointed him, by the tribe’s election law, it must appoint his replacement.

Click here to read Roger Johnson’s resignation letter

Click here to read Roger Johnson’s resignation statement

Click here to read a transcript of the CN Supreme Court hearing

will-chavez@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.

Election

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/03/2015 12:48 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to certified recount results, Wanda Hatfield and Betsy Swimmer are still the top two vote-getters who will face each other in the July 25 runoff for the At-Large Tribal Council seat. Following the June 27 general election, Election Commission officials posted results showing Hatfield leading with 25.94 percent of the ballots cast at 1,057 votes. Swimmer was second with 18.9 percent or 770 votes. Following the July 2 recount, Hatfield continued to lead with 1,057 votes, but Swimmer lost seven votes to finish with 763. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to learn what happened to the seven votes, but as of press time EC officials were unavailable for comment. Swimmer said she was confident the EC had valid numbers. “So I’m pleased that it came out like it did,” she said. “I’m pressing forward and I plan to win the election.” Hatfield said the top three finishers remained the same with the recount and congratulated Swimmer on being in the runoff. “It has been a great experience and the next three weeks will be extremely busy reaching out to the At-Large Cherokee citizens,” she added. Candidate Shane Jett, who requested the recount, received 717 votes in the general election, but saw his vote count lowered to 713 in the recount. Jett said with the 2015 election being his first venture into Cherokee politics it was a learning experience, especially the importance of voters ensuring they cast their ballots correctly. “They (EC) had to throw away over 350 absentee ballots because they either did not sign them, notarize them or fill them out properly. So those votes were never counted,” he said. “It’s important that people slow down and make sure their vote counts. I hope everyone gets out and votes for their candidate of choice because their (Cherokee) Nation is worth it.” The EC performed the recount with CN Supreme Court justices present before certifying the results. Runoff absentee ballots will be mailed on July 13-14 and the runoff election will take place on July 25. All successful candidates are to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, according to the CN election timeline.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/02/2015 11:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the certified results from a July 2 recount, William “Bill” Pearson has beaten Keith Austin by six votes to win the Dist. 14 Tribal Council seat. Original certified results from the June 27 general election showed Pearson receiving 534 votes for 50.5 percent of the ballots cast, while Austin garnered 533 votes for 49.95 percent. Austin filed for a recount, which the tribe’s Election Commission performed. After that recount, Pearson had 525 votes for 50.2 percent compared to Austin’s 519 votes at 49.7 percent. The votes tabulated during the recount consisted of precinct, absentee, early absentee and precinct challenged. The recount had 23 votes less compared to the original count. EC officials said that occurred because of human error when inputting votes. “The challenged ballots from the districts were processed on Sunday (June 28) beginning at ”1 p.m. through 12:11 a.m. on Monday and resulted in 349 out of approximately 700 challenged ballots being accepted,” an EC statement reads. “The 349 ballots were then fed through a voting machine that was pre-defined for absentees, to get the vote count for the various races and candidates. The card from the machine was then placed in the computer to print out the challenged vote results. And unbeknownst to the operator it recorded the ballots as absentee votes then the operator took the printout of challenged ballots and manually entered them for the appropriate race and candidate, resulting in the 349 votes being entered twice.” The EC statement also reads that once this was discovered, those votes entered into the machine under absentee were removed. The challenged votes that were correctly placed in districts remained in those districts. “Resulting in the 349 being correctly counted,” the release stated. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Pearson but he was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. In an email statement, Austin did not state whether he would appeal the recount results to the Supreme Court but that he appreciated the EC’s hard work. “They have the impossible job of determining a certifiable winner in a race that could not be closer,” Austin wrote. “Obviously, we want to work with the Election Commission and the Supreme Court to help determine that the election results are accurate. Cherokees took the time to vote because they have faith in our Nation. We owe it to them to ensure their intentions are honored and their votes count.” The EC certified the recount on July 2 in the presence of Supreme Court justices. Candidates have until July 6 to appeal election results with the Supreme Court. Provided there are any appeals, the Supreme Court would hear those cases July 7-9. Candidates elected to office during the general and runoff elections are expected to be sworn in Aug. 14, according to the tribe’s election timeline. The runoff election is set for July 25. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9410_ExplanationofRecalculationofVoteCount.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the Explanation of Recalculation of Vote Count document.
BY CN COMMUNICATIONS
Cherokee Nation
07/01/2015 06:22 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — At-Large Tribal Council candidate Shane Jett submitted a formal recount request Wednesday to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission after certified General Election results showed Jett finished third to candidates Wanda Hatfield and Betsy Swimmer. After Election Commission officials tabulated challenge ballots Sunday, results had Jett with 717 votes to Hatfield’s 1,057 votes and Swimmer’s 770 votes. Hatfield and Swimmer are scheduled for a run-off election Saturday, July 25, since no candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, pending the outcome of the requested recount. Election Commission officials are now waiting on a formal order from the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court to begin preparation for the recount. Officials must have the recount completed by Friday, July 3. A recount for the District 14 race was ordered by the Supreme Court on Tuesday after candidate Keith Austin submitted a formal request late Monday. District 14 candidates Keith Austin and William Pearson were separated by one vote in the certified election results.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/01/2015 02:14 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Oklahoma Fire fastpitch softball team will face girls from all across the country when they travel July 13-18 to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to compete in the USSSA National World Series. The team is comprised of 14 girls, 12 of which are Cherokee, from the Tahlequah area. They reserved their spot for the series on June 21 by capturing the Oklahoma State 12u Rec/All-Stars Championship in Bixby. The team is also fundraising for the trip. It created a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $15,000. To visit the page, go to <a href=" http://www.gofundme.com/okfire" target="_blank">http://www.gofundme.com/okfire</a>. The team is also holding an Indian taco sale from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 3 at the Oklahoma American Legion Post 135 In Tahlequah. Tickets can be purchased in advance from parents, players and team partner O’Reilly Auto Parts.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/01/2015 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Jonathan Powell, director of marketing and business development for Cherokee Nation Industries, was recently named to the Federal Communications Commission’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council. “It is an honor to receive this nomination and to have the opportunity to serve as a voice for rural and tribal communities while influencing advancements in our nation’s communications systems,” said Powell. “My focus is providing the best services to all citizens, continuing to bridge interoperability gaps and ensuring rural and tribal land is a consideration when making recommendations to the FCC.” A CN citizen and Pryor native, Powell has more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University in finance and a master’s degree in business administration from Oklahoma City University. Powell will join the fifth charter of the CSRIC, which provides guidance, expertise and recommendations to the FCC to ensure optimal security and reliability of the nation’s communications systems. The council addresses the availability of communications during natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other events that result in exceptional strain on the communications infrastructure, as well as the rapid restoration of communications services in the event of widespread or major disruptions. “Mr. Powell is a valuable asset at CNI, leading teams in the areas of market strategy and research, partnership development, sales planning and business development,” said Chris Moody, CNI president. “As a leader within a tribally owned business, he provides a unique and valuable insight to the CSRIC that will be crucial for the future of communications in tribal entities and Indian Country.” Members of the CSRIC are appointed by the chairman of the FCC and selected from public safety agencies, consumer or community organizations or other nonprofit entities and the private sector to balance various expertise and viewpoints.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/01/2015 08:37 AM
In this month's issue: • Baker, Crittenden win 2nd terms • 6 Tribal Council candidates win, 2 are incumbents • Dist. 6, At-Large council races head to runoffs • Chief, governor sign hunting, fishing compact ...plus much more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9402_2015-07-01.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the July 2015 issue of the Cherokee Phoenix.