Tribal Council amends election code

BY JAMI MURPHY
Former Reporter
05/19/2016 02:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council unanimously amended the Cherokee Nation’s election law during its May 16 meeting after removing the definition of “term” as a full four years when pertaining to an elected office.

Previously, the Rules Committee added the definition to Legislative Act 04-14 to further define “term” within the CN Constitution. However, during the May 16 meeting, Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who sponsored the act, introduced it with an amendment.

“I have one small change. We will be striking the definition of ‘term’ in its entirety,” she said.

Tribal Councilor Jack Baker seconded the motion before the body voted by acclamation.

After the meeting, Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor told the Cherokee Phoenix that the legislation’s intent was to make tribal elections run more smoothly.

“Changes needed to be made to avoid issues that have come up in past elections such as a candidate raising funds and campaigning then not filing for office. There were some very good changes made with this act, and it was important for this council to work through the details until we reached a solution we could all live with. In the end, the only issue we could not agree on was the definition of ‘term.’ It speaks to the integrity of this council that we were able to work together to find a solution that we all could agree on and I am pleased that it passed unanimously,” she said.

Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who opposed defining term as “a full four years,” said he was happy the definition was removed from the legislation. “Council can now move forward to important issues on behalf of Cherokee citizens.”

Vazquez deferred comments to Attorney General Todd Hembree, who said he believes several necessary changes were made to the election law with the amendment.

“I’m proud of the collaboration between the council, the Election Commission and the AG’s office making these amendments happen,” he said.

Regarding the “term” definition being pulled from the amendment, Hembree said the Tribal Council did not define what constitutes a complete term, but left that interpretation up to the plain reading of the Constitution.

In March, the Rules Committee discussed the word “term” in the Constitution, and Hembree said that “term” was not defined within the election law. “Nowhere during the election law have we ever defined what a term of office is.”

The committee then voted to define “term” as “consecutive full four (4) years in which the elective or appointed officer may perform the functions of office and enjoy its privileges, a term shall not include the remainder of any unexpired term or partial year.”

However, after debate during the April 12 Tribal Council meeting, legislators sent back the act to the Rules Committee for review. The committee again approved the “term” definition with a 9-6-1 vote until May 16 when it was pulled from the amendment.

Also with the election law change, Tribal Councilors moved the general election from the fourth Saturday in June of the election year to the first Saturday to allow the Election Commission more time to for election matters. They also defined the term “candidate” as a person who has raised funds and/or accepted in-kind contributions in excess of $1,000 or has filed for office.

With this change, one can be considered a candidate before actually filing for an elected position.

Other changes included a new section for record retention and assessing a civil penalty for a person who has become a candidate and fails to file as one.

Also at the May 16 meeting, the Tribal Council approved Pamela Sellers as the EC’s fifth member. Sellers took her oath during the meeting with Supreme Court Justice John Garrett presiding.

The body also approved Valerie Rogers to the Home Health Services board and the Comprehensive Care Agency or PACE board.

Councilors also approved nine donations of surplus equipment to various organizations within the CN.

Council

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