Cherokee Nation election code revisions move forward
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation election reforms a year in the making garnered committee approval on Sept. 24.
The Tribal Council’s Rules Committee voted 16-1 in favor of the changes, which were a collaboration of a council workgroup, the Election Commission and attorney general’s office.
“I think most if not all the workgroup would admit this is not 100% of what any of us wanted,” said Tribal Councilor Mike Dobbins, who was chairman of the workgroup. “But we had a dedicated group of councilors willing to work on this effort.”
The update spells out criminal sanctions for election fraud, while an extensive new section defines election fraud, including subjects such as ballot stuffing, absentee ballot mischief and tampering.
Another change states that absentee ballots may not be sent to “any candidate or address used by any candidate or the candidate’s campaign,” other than for use by the candidate or the candidate’s household. Absentee ballot requests signed by a person other than the registered voter “shall be referred to the Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation for prosecution as applicable,” according to the changes.
The updated verbiage also nixes the ability of any CN citizen to challenge a candidate’s eligibility. Instead, “only opposing candidates” shall have that right.
A separate measure, called the Cherokee Citizen Identification Verification Act, was also supported in committee by a 10-7 vote. It expands the identification process for CN citizens who cast absentee ballots.
“Voter identification and verification is the fundamental foundation for Cherokee citizens to have confidence in the legitimacy of Cherokee elections,” the act states. “Voter identification and verification can be achieved through more than one method to ensure that all registered voters of the Cherokee Nation are able to participate in all Cherokee elections.”
Under the new ID requirements, absentee voters would be permitted to sign an affidavit in the presence of a notary public as usual, but also by voting in the presence of one witness along with an enclosed copy of a government-issued photo ID.
Also on Sept. 24 during a special Tribal Council meeting was the Cherokee Heritage Center Act of 2020 “to facilitate the transfer of Cherokee archives and collections of the Cherokee Heritage Center to Cherokee Nation.”
“Certainly the Cherokee Heritage Center is a treasure of the Cherokee Nation, and it contains treasures,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “I think if we’re going to sustain it for generations, we need to take a new approach to how the Cherokee Heritage Center is managed, and we certainly need to own the contents of the Heritage Center and the Heritage Center itself.”
Established by the Cherokee National Historical Society, the 44-acre CHC on Keeler Drive in Park Hill includes a mid-1970s building that houses the Cherokee National Archives, a museum store and office and exhibit space. It also features reconstructed historic villages, a Trail of Tears display and original columns from the original Cherokee Female Seminary.
The approved act establishes a new CNHS, organized under the laws of the CN as a successor to the Cherokee National Historical Society Inc.
In other business, a council committee supported changing the name of the Nicut-Belfonte Community Center in Muldrow to the Sallie Byrd Sevenstar Community Center.