At-large voters sent notice regarding disqualified candidate
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation Election Commission officials have mailed to at-large voters who requested absentee ballots for the June 1 general election a special notice explaining that votes will be counted for only four of the five listed candidates.
Because ballots were printed prior to the April 30-May 1 absentee ballot mailing dates, at-large voters received notices in their absentee packages regarding the disqualification of At-Large Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield.
“Notice is hereby given to voters that Wanda Hatfield has been disqualified as a candidate for the 2019 general election and any vote for At-Large candidate Wanda Hatfield will not be counted or considered,” the notices states.
The EC disqualified Hatfield on April 18. She was accused of mailing in CN envelopes community assistance checks, each worth $500, to the Mount Hood Cherokees of Salem, Oregon, and the San Diego Cherokee Community, while also including campaign literature, business cards and handwritten notes asking for their support in the election.
Following a hearing, the commission’s findings and conclusions stated that Hatfield had violated Cherokee statute by “providing anything of value to voter(s) for the direct purpose of influencing voter behavior in an election.”
A day before the EC voted to send special notices to at-large voters, Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw questioned the fairness of listing five candidates on the ballot when only four are eligible.
“My question is if the fifth name is marked that is not eligible, what happens to those votes?” Shaw asked during a Rules Committee meeting April 25.
Election authorities told her that votes for Hatfield would not count.
“Then that’s a wasted vote,” Shaw said. “That’s not fair to the remaining four who are actually contenders. I am concerned. I am the other at-large (councilor).”
Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the issue was previously addressed by the CN Supreme Court.
“This is not the first time in Cherokee Nation election that we’ve had people on the ballot whose votes are not counted,” she said. “The case has gone to the Supreme Court in the past. What the Supreme Court said in that case is if there is not sufficient time to print new ballots … that the ballots go out with the ineligible candidate on there and the votes simply don’t count.”
Marcus Fears, EC administrator, said there was no time to reprint ballots due to deadline constraints set by CN election law.
“The law says we have to mail on that last day of April and first day in May,” Fears said. “So we have to get those out on those days.”
The Hatfield notice will also be posted for early walk-in voting, according to the EC.
According to the EC, an estimated 8,750 absentee ballots were requested. At-large voters accounted for 3,275 of those requests, election officials said.
The CN as a whole has 73,000-plus registered voters, which includes approximately 30,000 at-large.