CN Election Commission rules candidates can run

BY TESINA JACKSON
Former Reporter
03/24/2011 07:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Election Commission ruled March 18 that four tribal candidates who had their eligibility challenged are qualified to run in their respective races.

CN citizen Robin Mayes, of Denton, Texas, filed objections March 15 against the candidacies of At-Large Tribal Councilor Julia Coates and challenger John W. Cornsilk, as well as Principal Chief Chad Smith and Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts.

Former Tribal Councilor Linda Hughes O’Leary also filed an objection March 15 to Principal Chief Chad Smith’s candidacy, while CN citizens Steve Osburn, of Miami, Okla.; and Twila Barnes, of Fulton, Mo., each filed challenges March 16 against Coates and Cornsilk.

In the Coates and Cornsilk challenges, all objections were based on the tribe’s constitution and election law requiring councilors to be residents of the districts they represent.

The constitution states that councilors “representing districts within the boundaries must be domiciled within their district.” According to Legislative Act 6-10, candidates must permanently reside in the district for which they are candidates “for no less than 270 days immediately preceding the day of the general election in which he or she is seeking election.”

However, the act also states, “This section shall not apply to ‘At-Large’ district candidates.”

According to the candidates’ filings, both Coates and Cornsilk list Tahlequah addresses for their primary residences. Tahlequah is part of District 1. The At-Large district is considered anywhere outside the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction.

In its ruling, the EC states nothing in the constitution contradicts the LA 6-10 provision exempting At-Large candidates from the residency rule.

“It is, therefore, the ruling of the Commission that this declaration of candidacy of Julia Coates and John Cornsilk to the at-large seat on the Tribal Council is in order,” the EC ruling states.

The challenges against Smith and Cowan Watts’ candidacies are both based on the fact the candidates have served two consecutive terms in their respective offices and seek a third consecutive term.

Mayes’ challenge states the tribe’s constitution prohibits candidates to run if they have served two consecutive terms previous to the term to be served if elected.

The constitution states, “No person having been elected to the office of Principal Chief in two (2) consecutive elections shall be eligible to file for the office of Principal Chief in the election next following his or her second term of office.”

It repeats the same language for council candidates.

However, the EC denied the challenges based on the Supreme Court upholding a CN Attorney General opinion regarding term limits and a ruling by District Court Judge Bart Fite in the case Principal Chadwick Smith vs. Cherokee Nation Election Commission.

“Even though Cherokee officials elected in 2003 were sworn in on Aug. 14, 2003, after the effective date of the 1999 Constitution, they were elected before the 1999 Constitution was ratified. They were not in fact elected pursuant to or under the new Constitution,” the Supreme Court states.

That opinion led to Fite’s 2009 decision stating: “ With this ruling, all those Cherokee officials who were elected in 2007 and choose to run in the 2011 election will be seeking their second consecutive term of office for the purposes of being elected under the Cherokee Constitution of 1999.”

According to Supreme Court documents, Mayes filed an petition on March 21 appealing the EC decisions. No hearing date had been set as of press time. According to the EC, the period for the court to establish hearings on candidacy challenges is April 4-7.

tesina-jackson@cherokee.org • (918) 453-5000, ext. 6139

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