Cherokee Nation election officials say ballots secure from start to finish

05/03/2019 04:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Security plays a role in every step of the election process, according to Cherokee Nation Election Commission officials. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – From an election ballot’s beginning at an off-site printer to its eventual home inside a vault, security plays a role in every step along the way, Cherokee Nation election officials said.

“We have a good policy to follow,” Elections Director Connie Parnell said.

In the CN, a ballot’s life cycle begins at an outside, certified printer. Ballots are designed specifically for the CN’s election equipment.

“They can only be fed through and read one time,” Parnell said. “You cannot take it out and try to feed it in again. The equipment knows it has been through.”

The Election Commission Office is having printed an estimated 80,000 ballots for the June 1 general election to accommodate the 73,000-plus registered voters and new voters who registered before the March 29 deadline.

There are multiple ways to cast a ballot, including absentee, early or at the polls on election day. At the polls, an election inspector will be stationed at each of the 51 precincts.

“They are responsible for the conduct at the precincts. Plus they are the ones that pick up all of the equipment and supplies on the Friday before,” Parnell said.

Inspectors are also charged with transporting ballots and equipment to the EC Office in Tahlequah on election night.

“They will physically bring everything back sealed and locked,” Parnell said.

At the EC Office on election night, security and CN marshals will be on hand.

“Everything comes through the front doors,” Parnell said. “In order to leave space for our precinct officials to come in, we will have traffic conductors out there.”

Voters had until April 19 to request an absentee ballot.

“We have a form for them to request,” Parnell said. “On that form it says where they want the ballots mailed to.”

Absentee ballots will be mailed out on April 30 and May 1. Absentee ballots are secured within three envelopes, Parnell said.

“You vote your ballot,” she said. “It goes into a secrecy envelope. The secrecy envelope then is sealed and placed inside the affidavit envelope. The affidavit envelope is executed in front of a notary; the voter signs in front of a notary.”

The affidavit envelope, Parnell said, is then sealed in a postage-paid “outer return envelope.” Absentee ballots dropped off at the EC Office are secured inside a vault, while mailed absentee ballots end up at the post office in Tahlequah.

“They are secured in locked, sealed boxes at the post office until the week before the election,” Parnell said.

Marcus Fears, EC administrator, said security staff or CN marshals oversee all transactions between the post office and EC Office.

“They escort us there or they follow us there,” Fears said. “They actually go into the post office with us and check the box.”

Absentee ballots remain at the post office until the Monday before the election. Once absentee ballots are escorted to the EC Office, “We have security here at all times,” Parnell said.

“Everything is locked within the vault, which is under surveillance at all times,” she said. “There are cameras inside and outside. It takes three people to get in it – a commissioner and two staff or any combination of the three – ajust as long as there is at least one commissioner.”

Barcodes on the outside of absentee envelopes are scanned to give voters credit for voting, but the actual votes themselves are not counted until after 7 p.m. on election day.
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