Julia Coats – CN At Large Tribal Councilor
The Cherokee midterm elections are upon us with the official filing period for candidates having just ended this past Thursday, Feb. 4. There are nine tribal council seats up for election, including one for the At Large citizens. The current councilor holding that seat, Mary Baker Shaw, announced on January 29 that she would not be standing for re-election, so there will be a new councilor representing us after August 14.
The election is on June 5, 2021.
Eight candidates have filed for the At Large seat. In addition, one of the candidates, Marilyn Vann, a freedman descendant, has been challenged by another candidate, Robin Mayes, who contends that Ms. Vann is ineligible to run for elected office because the Constitution states that only citizens with Cherokee “blood” can hold elected office. We will await the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court’s determination on the question.
Please see the links below to the Cherokee Phoenix for information about the races and the candidates who filed.
CHANGES FOR AT LARGE VOTERS
As you may know, At Large citizens may only vote by absentee ballot, unless they travel to Tahlequah on early voting dates to vote. As a result, 70% of the absentee vote in Cherokee elections comes from At Large voters. Last fall, along with Councilor Mary Baker Shaw, I sponsored legislation to change the verification requirements for absentee voting. I had served on the Election Law Reform workgroup for about a year at that point, and I insisted that because we are the bulk of the absentee voters, this was really our issue: eliminate the notary requirement for absentee ballot. Until COVID-19 forced changes, Oklahoma was the only state in the country where absentee ballots had to be notarized, and there wasn’t any other permissible way to verify the voter’s identity. The Cherokee Nation had simply followed suit without giving it much thought. For At Large citizens in Oklahoma, who were accustomed to this requirement, there was never much complaint about it.
But during every election year in the eight years I previously served in office, I have heard from Cherokee citizens everywhere else whose states do not require this about the difficulty and the onerousness of having to fulfill this requirement. It has clearly been a requirement that suppressed the At Large Cherokee vote.
We were not successful in eliminating the notary requirement entirely, but we were successful in expanding the manner of verifying the ballot in a way that I think will be much easier for everyone who votes absentee. This year, for the first time, Cherokee Nation citizens have three ways to verify their ballot.
(1) Have it notarized as in the past OR
(2) Include a copy of a government-issued photo ID (your tribal registry card is preferred, but a DL or passport will also be accepted) and an witness affidavit in the ballot OR
(3) Include two witness affidavits in the ballot.
It should be easy for most of us to do one of these as verification for our ballot. Instructions and affidavits will be included with the ballot. To be clear, the witness affidavit is that they witnessed you signing the outer envelope of the ballot. It is not an affidavit that they witnessed your vote. In essence, your witness is performing the same function a notary would have. Your ballot signature can be witnessed by another family member, for instance, without even leaving the house.
The only person who cannot witness your ballot is a candidate for office.
Of course, for those who live in any of the 38 states where a signature on the ballot is all that is required to vote absentee, this still seems like something of a burden, but it’s a big step for those tribal councilors who reside in conservative, rural Oklahoma. Thirteen of the 17 Cherokee Nation tribal councilors voted for these changes, and I’m very grateful for that support. (This will be good for their absentee voters as well in the era of COVID-19.) In addition, Councilor Shaw and I were joined by Councilor Joe Deere of North Tulsa as a sponsor of the legislation.
FORMS REQUIRED TO VOTE IN CHEROKEE ELECTIONS
To vote in Cherokee elections, one must register to vote, and request an absentee ballot. Both of those forms are attached to this email.
If you are already registered to vote in Cherokee Nation elections, you do not need to re-register, unless your address has changed. If you have not registered to vote, you may do so before the March 31, 2021 deadline. Use the attached form above. Please note, just because you are a registered citizen, does not automatically mean you are a registered voter. You MUST register to vote in addition to being a registered CN citizen.
Every registered voter must also request an absentee ballot. This must be requested for every Cherokee election. So even if you have requested this in previous Cherokee elections you must do it again this year. That form is also attached. The deadline to submit it is April 16, 2021.
A new voter, or one who has an address change, may submit both forms at the same time before March 31. The forms may be submitted by mail, email or fax. You may take a picture of the form(s) and attach or embed it in an email
I will continue to update you and send reminders throughout this election season. Happy voting!