Absentee voting remains unchanged for Cherokee Nation election

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
05/03/2019 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Nena Roberts, right, a Cherokee Nation citizen and a carrier of the Election Fraud Prevention Act petition, speaks to CN citizen Heather Sequichie about the petition during the 64th annual Cherokee National Holiday in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The petition focuses on changing parts of the tribe’s election laws dealing with absentee voting. ARCHIVE
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Twila Pennington holds a poster while volunteers gather around her during the Cherokee National Holiday in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She and CN citizen Melanie Fourkiller filed an initiative petition with hopes to amend absentee voting laws. ARCHIVE
TAHLEQUAH – As the Cherokee Nation’s 2019 general election approaches, some tribal citizens are voicing concerns about absentee ballots.

Under tribal law, another person can deliver an absentee ballot for a voter who is presumably homebound or otherwise unable to return the ballot. This has resulted in concerns that absentee ballots could be “harvested” and filled out in favor of a particular candidate.

Ballot harvesting occurred in a North Carolina race, when a GOP operative reportedly rounded up votes for U.S. Senate candidate Mark Harris. Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. allegedly paid local recruits $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they collected in two counties and returned to him – allowing the possibility of alteration.

Ultimately, a bipartisan commission refused to certify the balloting and called for a new election, from which Harris withdrew.

While some CN citizens worry about how absentee ballots are handled, others have complained that the percentage of Cherokees who vote absentee is too large and that absentee votes too often fall heavily in favor of one candidate.

Though accusations of ballot harvesting have occurred after CN elections, no proof has been documented.

One candidate in the 2019 election, who requested anonymity, expressed worry that ballots might be altered, but also did not want any adjustment of rules to make voting difficult for elders.

The Tribal Council also recently discussed the issue at a committee meeting.

“Council approached the issue during the Jan. 31 Rules Committee meeting,” Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “Councilor David Walkingstick introduced 19-09 – for discussion only – an act amending (Legislative Act) LA-12-16. A majority of the council voted to table the measure indefinitely, as it could be potentially confusing to voters to alter the election code during an election year.”

The legislation’s absentee ballot language suggested clarifying a voter’s address, including a date with signature, disallowing the filling out of absentee request forms before an approved election timeline, including an address to which the ballot must be mailed and requiring use of an Election Commission form.

Additionally, the proposal included a clause requiring notification of the attorney general’s office if more than 10 absentee ballots are to be mailed to a single address, unless sent to nursing homes, veterans centers, medical facilities, multiunit housing complexes, addresses overseas or addresses authorized by the EC.

By tribal law, voters residing within the jurisdiction may vote at their respective precincts or by early walk-in voting or absentee ballot. At-large voters can only vote by absentee ballot or early walk-in voting.

CN absentee ballot regulations differ from Oklahoma statutes, which are stricter. The state expects absentee ballots to be delivered by mail, but they can be hand delivered to the respective county election office.

Though Oklahoma voters need not submit a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, some do give “excuses” that the state accepts. These allow a voter leeway when requesting and submitting an absentee ballot.

Oklahoma allows a voter to designate an “agent” to hand deliver an absentee ballot or submission for ballot under particular and narrowly defined circumstances. An agent must be at least 16 years old and cannot “be employed by or related within the third degree by blood or marriage to a candidate on the ballot.” An agent may represent only one voter per election, and complete and sign a form at the appropriate county election board office.

Requests for absentee ballots must be received by the EC by April 19 to vote in the June 1 general election. Ballots were mailed on April 30 and May 1.
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