All candidates eligible to run, EC says

Cherokee Nation At-Large candidate Robin Carter Mayes, foreground, confers with CN citizen David Cornsilk during a Feb. 22 Election Commission hearing in Tahlequah. 

TAHLEQUAH – All 38 candidates who filed for office, including four whose qualifications were challenged, are eligible to run, the Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission decided on Feb. 23.

Commissioners came to their conclusion a day after hearing testimony related to the candidates in question – Marilyn Vann, Victoria Vazquez, Randy Junior White and Mason Hudson, who will remain in their respective races. However, their challengers have a short window to file an appeal with the CN Supreme Court.

“Either party has a right to appeal the decision within five business days,” EC attorney Harvey Chaffin said.

The challenge lodged against At-Large candidate Vann, a Freedmen descendant, alleged that she lacked a “by blood” requirement in the CN Constitution. However, on Feb. 22, the CN Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the “by blood” language was void and should be removed from tribal laws, including provisions within the Constitution.

Robin Carter Mayes, the At-Large candidate who filed Vann’s challenge, told commissioners that in light of the court’s ruling earlier that day, “I’ve got a pretty good idea how this commission is going to rule.”

“I don’t see how you have much choice,” he said. “We know that the court ruled that the Constitution in ’75 should not have had the language ‘by blood’ in it. It shouldn’t have, but it does.”

Mayes indicated he would file an appeal.

“It’s not a free and fair election if the rules change after everybody’s filed,” he said.

Vazquez, the current Dist. 11 representative, was also deemed eligible to run for office again after defending against a complaint based on term limits. Vazquez was first elected in an Oct. 12, 2013, special election to fill a seat vacated by then-Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr., who resigned to become the tribe’s secretary of state. Vazquez was re-elected in June 2017.

Hudson, one of the Dist. 11 candidates, alleged that Vazquez was not eligible for another term.

“She was already brought up on this challenge in the last election,” Hudson’s attorney, Deborah Reed, said. “It seems reasonable it would be valid this time.”

CN law restricts councilors to two consecutive four-year terms. The Constitution states that, “All Council members having served two consecutive terms must sit out one term before seeking any seat on the Council.”

Vazquez’s attorney, Ralph Keen II, said the matter was previously decided in CN District Court.

“This same challenge was brought up three years ago when she came up for the last election cycle,” he said. “(District Court Judge T. Luke Barteaux’s) ruling was, if a councilor is first placed into office by virtue of being a runner-up or elected in a special election for a term of less than four years – which is the case here – then the shortened term shall not be counted as their first term for term limit purposes.”

Hudson, a challenger for one case, was the challenged in another, along with fellow Dist. 11 hopeful White. CN citizen David Cornsilk filed the challenges, claiming Hudson and White, citizens “by adoption of Shawnee blood ancestry,” are not “citizens by blood as required by the Constitution,” and are therefore ineligible to run for office.

Like Vann, Hudson and White were affected by the earlier Supreme Court ruling striking the “by blood” reference, a turn of events Cornsilk acknowledged.

“That opinion renders moot this question,” he said.

The EC based its decision on the SC ruling, as well as the fact that Cornsilk was not an opposing candidate as required by an election reform package approved by the Tribal Council in 2020.

The tribe’s 2021 general election is June 5. If needed, a runoff election will be held July 24.