General election voting to be observed by ‘watchers’
Stoney Eagle, of Cherry Tree, signs his name to receive his ballot to vote in the June 27 Cherokee Nation general election at the Stilwell precinct. The Election Commission is required to be nonpartisan, and its duties include staffing polling sites with reliable personnel and allowing voting procedures to be observed. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – With the Cherokee Nation’s general election looming, the competition to win votes can get contentious between campaigns. Voters have their favorite candidates and sometimes voice suspicions about how the elections are handled. However, the Election Commission is required to be nonpartisan, and its duties include staffing polling sites with reliable personnel and allowing voting procedures to be observed.
Among those present at precincts on election day are “watchers.” These poll workers ensure that regulations are properly followed.
“They undergo three hours of training,” Elections Director Connie Parnell said. “I have been teaching two of those courses each Saturday. It used to be that they all had to come here for training, but now it’s offered in the districts. I was just in Jay, and before that I was in Claremore. Next I go to Nowata and then to Sallisaw.”
Legislative Act 12-16, which governs elections, states that watchers cannot be any candidate for CN elective office or an incumbent. Erstwhile principal chiefs, deputy chiefs and tribal councilors are also ineligible to serve.
“The selection of the watchers and their designated precincts shall be by random drawing of names submitted by candidates for each respective district to be assigned within those districts,” the act states. “The Election Commission shall have the sole authority to determine the number of watchers in any given precinct.”
Regulations also address watchers for absentee balloting. Six absentee watchers and two alternate watchers are selected for “each day that absentee declarations are examined and on the day of the election.” No absentee watcher can serve for more than one day. Absentee watchers are also selected at random from a pool of names submitted by candidates. A candidate submits a list when filing for office.
On election day, watchers are entitled to observe the ballot box, the counting device and printouts from the device. Watchers can make observations before, during and after balloting hours. They may be commissioned to observe any testing of the counting devices and to accompany anyone assigned to repair or maintain machines during the election period. While observing machine maintenance or repair, the watcher is expected not to interrupt, but keep a written record of the work.
Tribal voting regulations state that a watcher “is an observer only.” They may only talk with the precinct inspector or EC members about possible irregularities, which the inspector or commission member is expected to address.
Watchers may not carry a cell phone or other electronic device, cannot receive or make phone calls and must be present at the polling site from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Any watcher who leaves during those hours will not be allowed to return.
When balloting is completed, the watchers are expected to stay at their respective precincts until all work is finished and the inspector is ready to return the election materials.
If a watcher has any complaints, questions or allegations of irregularities, a precinct worker can be asked to call the EC.
Watchers can also call attention to violations of “electioneering” regulations.
“Of course, they know that there can be no campaign literature, signs or stickers,” Parnell said.
Candidates running for office cannot have signs within 300 feet of polling sites, and no person can promote a candidate within the same distance. Articles of clothing, buttons, flyers and other “swag” often handed out to promote political campaigns are prohibited at polls.