TAHLEQUAH – Citing confusion over the Cherokee Nation’s deadline for in-person absentee ballots, the Election Commission agreed Oct. 12 to seek an official opinion from the CN Attorney General’s Office.

In an election code update approved by the Tribal Council in 2020, a deadline of Election Day, which is typically a Saturday, was replaced with the prior Thursday instead. However, that change was never implemented according to tribal policymakers who recently expressed concern because, as Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh noted, “We asked for it a certain way and we didn’t get it.”

The EC contends that although the Thursday deadline was officially approved, an amendment passed by the Council later the same day did not reflect the change.

“That’s when the confusion started,” Election Commissioner Rick Doherty said during the EC’s Oct. 12 meeting.

Harvey Chaffin, the commission’s attorney, said the EC is bound to follow the most recently passed legislation.

“All we did is follow the statute that they enacted,” Chaffin said. “What they adopted last is very clear. If a statute says something … you can’t put something else in there, and this one says on Friday the day before election and Election Day.”

At Doherty’s request, the EC voted to seek an opinion from the attorney general for clarification.

“I’m not wanting to get into it with anyone,” Doherty said. “I just want to get it clarified and show the attorney general there’s this one dated this date and this one this date. You know, they’re the ones we’re supposed to ask for guidance. Either they say we interpreted it right or we interpreted it wrong.”

Up for consideration at the Tribal Council’s latest Rules Committee meeting was an official act to set the in-person absentee ballot deadline to Thursday. However, no vote was taken after some legislators noted that it was already law and should be adhered to in future elections.

“They took it off the agenda because they said the law was clear and we didn’t interpret it correctly,” Doherty said.

Tribal Councilor Mike Dobbins said that 2020’s election reform package, which included the earlier deadline, had been passed 16-1 and was signed by the principal chief, “so it’s law.”

“I thought our legislative intent was very clear,” he said. “But the Election Commission decided to … change that.”

Tribal Councilor Keith Austin told fellow councilors that when legislation is passed, “We need to make sure that it does not conflict with previous legislation. We have to square up our legislation, and if we don’t give time to do that, we create the conflict we just had.”