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TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA - Following a meeting in executive session, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission approved a measure that will allow Freedmen descendants to cast challenged ballots in the upcoming election for the Office of Principal Chief.
The Commission says they called the September 14 special meeting to make sure they hold the election on September 24 and that they are prepared to encounter one of several outcomes of both tribal and federal court decisions.
"The purpose of the challenge ballot is that it allows us to be prepared for any possible court decision on the issue," said Susan Plumb, chairperson of the Election Commission. "The litigation is complex and we are working to uphold our commitment to hold an election that Cherokee citizens have confidence in."
"If a court decides the freedmen descendants can vote we will have the ability to certify the election. If the court decides they cannot vote we will still be able to preserve the election," said Plumb.
According to the Cherokee Nation election law, "Each challenged ballot shall be placed in a secrecy envelope attached to the voter registration application and statement executed by the voter Challenged ballots shall not be counted at the time the ballots are cast, but shall be maintained in a separate box marked 'challenged ballot box.' Following the close of the election, precinct officials designated by Election Commission regulation shall determine whether the person who cast a challenged ballot was entitled to vote in the precinct where the ballot was cast."
Freedmen descendants who are registered voters may cast their challenged ballot at their registered precinct or may participate in early walk-in voting at the Election Commission's office. If the voter requested an absentee ballot in either the general election or run-off election, he or she may cast an absentee ballot in the upcoming election. Early walk-in voting will be held at the Cherokee Nation Election Commission office, 2116 South Bald Hill Road., on September 20, 21and 22 from 9 am to 5 pm.
While the Commissioners were meeting in executive session, Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden spoke to the media about the upcoming election.
"Several things are facing our nation as we speak. I’ve been asked a lot of questions," said Crittenden. "Also, I'd just like to add that the people I just referred to voted in June and voted in July and they may have helped put me in office. I believe they are entitled to vote again. Our people deserve closure in this election process and I’d like to see it happen on the 24th or as soon as possible thereafter."
The Cherokee Nation Election Commission held a second special meeting the morning of September 15 to determine the logistics of distributing the provisional absentee ballots to eligible Freedmen descendants.
It was determined that provisional absentee ballots would be overnight-mailed to eligible Freedman descendant voters along with a prepaid overnight mail return envelope. During the meeting members of the Commission were asked to clarify their role in the upcoming election with regard to the current citizenship issue. In response, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission issued the following statement:
"The Election Commission does not have the ability to determine who is a tribal citizen. We only decide who is an eligible voter. The first requirement of being an eligible voter is citizenship. The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has ruled that the freedmen don't have citizenship. The courts have the potential to change that status from non-citizenship to citizenship. The job of the Election Commission is to plan for either decision by the courts and be prepared to have an election the Cherokee people have confidence in no matter what the courts decide on the citizenship issue."
"With the Freedmen issue in its current state of flux, the Election Commission determined to proceed with the provisional method and immediately send the provisional ballots out to those Freedmen who are eligible and registered and who have requested an absentee ballot. This will indeed give Freedmen the opportunity to vote, and with the sincere hope and belief that before the Sept. 24 election, the Freedmen issue regarding the limited issue of voting in the September 24 election will be resolved. If a provisional ballot is not provided and sent out today, it seriously jeopardizes even the possibility of Freedmen participation the September 24 election."
"If it is ultimately determined that the Freedmen do have voting rights, then the September 24 vote will resolve the Chief election issue."
"The Election Commission is committed to perform its duties, including the providing of ballots to all persons that may ultimately be determined to have right to vote in the Sept. 24 election, and under the circumstances as they exist at this moment in time, the Commission has determined to proceed in this manner."
posted September 19, 2011 6:00 am edt
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