Election Commission chairman resigns amid controversy

BY WILL CHAVEZ
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

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