Jodie Fishinghawk disqualified from Tribal Council race
TAHLEQUAH – Following a May 23 hearing that lasted more than five hours, during which about 90 minutes was spent in executive session, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission disqualified Jodie Fishinghawk from the 2019 Dist. 8 Tribal Council race.
Fishinghawk, a former tribal councilor from 2007-15, was accused of forging signatures on voter registration forms and absentee ballot requests, and enlisting the help of an accomplice, Johanna Flynn.
Attorney General Todd Hembree and Fishinghawk counsel Natalie Fullbright-Ostrander called witnesses to support their arguments. But it was Fishinghawk – called by both sides – who spent much of the hearing testifying.
While Fishinghawk and her counsel attacked much of the fraud evidence Hembree submitted, they did not dispute that the candidate had filled out registration and absentee ballot forms, and even signed the names of voters on some of them – primarily those of family members.
Fishinghawk built her defense on the arguments that many in her family wished to register and vote for her, and gave her permission to have the forms sent to a single address where she could complete the pertinent information and apply signatures for them.
She also argued her actions were in no way intended to deceive the EC or gather fraudulent votes. Fishinghawk said all voters were eligible and gave her permission to fill out registrations or ballots on their behalf.
“He’s on the road working on a pipeline,” Fishinghawk said explaining one of the registrations and absentee ballots requested by a family member. “He called… and said ‘I want to vote for you.’”
Fullbright-Ostrander asked whether Fishinghawk completed the forms at the family member’s request, to which Fishinghawk replied, “yes,” and further said that she signed his name to the forms.
“He told me to,” Fishinghawk said. “He wanted to vote for me. I signed it. He wasn’t here and he was on the road.”
Fishinghawk said she would not have signed the name without clear permission.
Hembree said Fishinghawk had no authority to sign for another voter on EC forms, even if she received permission. He asked her whether she had “power of attorney or guardianship” over several people whose names appeared on forms for whom she said she had signed.
“So these individuals for who you signed their names, you cannot tell this commission or the Cherokee Nation that you had specific authority to sign their names for them,” Hembree asked.
“No, I cannot tell them I had power of attorney on them,” Fishinghawk said.
In a written decision, the EC listed 17 findings of fact and nine conclusions of law to support its unanimous ruling.
In its conclusions, the EC stated it is charged with the duties of voter registration and processing absentee ballot requests, and that candidates who interfere with those duties can be subject to hearings and disqualification.
The findings included the submittals of voter registration forms and absentee ballot requests by a person on three occasions between April 10-19, all bearing the names of CN citizens, and that voter registration forms were turned in for three members of one family and four other citizens despite none of them recalling completing or signing forms.
The EC conclusion states that Fishinghawk “interfered… by admitting to forging voter registration forms and absentee ballot requests, and directed Johanna Flynn to forge voter registration forms and absentee ballot requests.”
Four of Hembree’s witnesses, all Stilwell residents, told the commission that voter registration forms had been requested in their names without their knowledge. They told Fullbright-Ostrander they did not know who had requested the forms and signed their names. The EC concluded that each “demonstrates that Fishinghawk directly interfered or attempted to interfere with the Commission’s prescribed duty,” with the four representing “a fraudulent voter registration form executed on behalf” of each.
“Jodie Fishinghawk, a candidate for the District 8 Tribal Council seat and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has violated Section 38(A) of the Cherokee Nation’s election law by both directly and indirectly interfering and attempting to interfere with the Commission’s prescribed duty to register voters and process absentee ballot requests through forging voter registration forms and absentee ballot requests,” the EC wrote. “She is therefore subject to disqualification by the Cherokee Nation Election Commission.”
Under tribal law, Fishinghawk has five days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Pending an appeal, the Dist. 8 seat is now being contested by Ralph F. Keen II and incumbent Shawn Crittenden.