Tahlequah woman pleads not guilty to election crimes

Lisa Dawn Cookson, of Tahlequah, appears before presiding Cherokee Nation District Court Judge T. Luke Barteaux on June 15. Cookson is accused of preparing, altering and signing more than 90 absentee ballot request forms without the knowledge or consent of voters. 

TAHLEQUAH – A Dist. 2 campaign volunteer facing jail time and fines for election crimes pleaded not guilty June 15 to the charges lodged against her by the Cherokee Nation attorney general’s office.

Lisa Dawn Cookson, 53, of Tahlequah, through an attorney, entered her plea during a brief appearance before presiding District Court Judge T. Luke Barteaux. She is accused of preparing, altering and signing more than 90 absentee ballot request forms without the knowledge or consent of voters between January and April “in an attempt to alter the outcome” of the June 5 general election.

On May 3, the attorney general’s office charged Cookson with one count each of election fraud and false personation. However, on June 14, an additional five counts of false personation were added to the complaint, which also upped the number of allegedly fraudulent absentee ballot request forms from “in excess of 15” to 90.

The false personation charges allege that Cookson impersonated others to fill out and turn in an absentee ballot request forms “without the consent or knowledge” of the victims.

Cookson, a volunteer for Dist. 2 candidate Bobby Slover’s campaign, was arrested May 4 and later released on bond, according to the attorney general’s office. Under CN law, election fraud and false personation is punishable by up to three years for each count and a maximum fine of $15,000.

“The Cherokee Nation attorney general’s office takes election fraud allegations very seriously,” Attorney General Sara Hill said in a statement. “It remains vitally important that tribal election laws are enforced in order to protect the rights of Cherokee Nation citizens and to uphold the integrity of our electoral process.”

The candidates for Dist. 2, which represents Cherokee County, were Slover, Candessa Tehee, Dusty Fore, Vicki Creel, Claude Stover, Tonya Teaney and Jami Murphy. Slover and Tehee, who received the most votes in the June 5 election, will face off in a July 24 runoff. Slover received 200 votes (29.41%) while Tehee garnered 219 (32.21%), according to the CN Election Commission.

Case witnesses include Slover, Vineta Jo Slover, former Dist. 3 Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick, victims and four CN Marshal Service employees. Cookson’s next court date is scheduled for Aug. 10.

In 2020, the Tribal Council refined election regulations and added penalties for anyone caught breaking the rules. A new section called “criminal and civil sanctions” states that anyone who commits election fraud “shall be deemed to have committed a crime” and shall be referred to the attorney general for prosecution.

Also, CN election code now states that only voters who request an absentee ballot are allowed to sign the document.

“Any absentee ballot request application signed by a person other than the Registered Voter shall be discarded as invalid,” the update states.

The absentee ballot request forms in question were originally presented to the EC.

“The AG’s office and Marshal Service investigate anything that gets submitted as a complaint,” EC Administrator Marcus Fears said.