Tribal Council OKs election code update
TAHLEQUAH – In a 16-1 vote on Oct. 13, the Tribal Council approved long-awaited election code updates.
“I admire the hard work that went into that reform,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “I look forward to signing it into law because I know that was a high priority for this council.”
The changes were a collaboration of a legislative workgroup, the Election Commission and attorney general’s office. Added are criminal sanctions for election fraud, while an extensive new section defines election fraud, including subjects such as ballot stuffing, absentee ballot mischief and tampering, among others.
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 unless that candidate is unopposed. Instead, “only opposing candidates” shall have that right.
“In the case of an unopposed Candidate, only a Registered Voter from within the district may contest the eligibility of the unopposed Candidate,” the change states.
In other business, the Council changed the name of the Nicut-Belfonte Community Center in Muldrow to the Sallie Byrd Sevenstar Community Center. It also passed resolutions confirming the reappointment of Vivian Garner Cottrell and Vryl Keeter to the Cherokee National Treasures Advisory Committee, and the appointment of Kendra McGeady to the Gaming Commission.
During an earlier Health Committee meeting, Health Services Executive Director Dr. Stephen Jones updated councilors on COVID-19-related efforts.
As of Oct. 12, Jones said, a total of 32,450 tests had been administered within the CN’s health system. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen to 2,647.
“Currently, our case monitoring team is following 381 patients,” Jones added. “We contact them each and every day. We’re also working on strategies to mitigate a surge if that should happen.”
The CN is also bracing for flu season. So far, 6,500 people have been vaccinated via the tribe’s flu clinic program, Jones said.
Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd lauded the health team for its “efficiency and promptness in providing and administering the flu vaccine.”
“You guys are just doing an outstanding job under the circumstances,” he said.
Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha spent much of the Oct. 13 Resource Committee meeting discussing the implications of the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Oklahoma maintaining regulatory control within tribal land.
Harsha said the EPA’s decision would essentially keep the powers of environmental regulation with the state, including “reservation” land not in trust, and subject to the same federal regulations tribes would be expected to enforce.
Though the EPA approval does little to change the pre-McGirt v. Oklahoma status quo, Harsha said Oklahoma’s eastern Five Tribes plan to fight the agency’s decision.
Harsha described the EPA’s consultations with the tribes as “disappointing,” and insufficient consultation may provide an angle of legal attack.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 included a buzzer-beating rider inserted by Oklahoma’s senior Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. It allows a special grant of authority for Oklahoma over Indian Country inside the state and mandates that the EPA approve any request by Oklahoma to administer EPA regulations in Indian Country “without any further demonstration of authority by the state.”
“It applies only to Oklahoma tribes,” Harsha said. “We are still in the process of building a consensus.”
During the Community Services Committee meeting, a number of councilors expressed concern about long lines for food distribution, and suggested Human Services find more manpower. It was also requested that a representative for Indian Child Welfare begin making personal reports to the committee every two months.