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Why It Matters Election Reform #1

Julia Coates Candidacy 2019

Filing for Candidacy On February 4, I filed my candidacy for the At Large Tribal Council seat. I presented my verification documents, including my tribal registration card, my driver’s license, last year’s tax return, my car registration, and my Cherokee Nation voter ID notification. All of them had the California address on them that I now use as my legal domicile. This time, they were accepted and my candidacy was verified by the CN Election Commission on February 14. No one challenged my candidacy.

I say “this time”, because many of you will remember that four years ago, when I filed to run for the office of Deputy Chief, I presented these same documents with the address of my home in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where I’d had a legal domicile for fifteen years. But because I had a second residence in California, my residency was challenged by another member of the Tribal Council. The Election Commission ruled against me, even though I presented exactly the same categories of documents then that I did last month when they were accepted without challenge. And although I appealed it to the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court, the Court also ruled against me in a political decision that many attorneys who had followed the proceedings told us we should have won hands down. As a result, I was disqualified from running. But this is all water under the bridge.

What Truly Matters… A politicized court is a difficult dilemma that can probably only be solved by installing ethical administrations. That’s up to YOU, the voters.

However, it is possible to establish a procedure to arrive at a less politicized Election Commission. As legislators, the members of the Tribal Council can take this important step by reforming the Cherokee Nation’s Election Code. When elected, I will join with others to initiate this important task.

At this time, the potential for a politicized Election Commission is high, largely because under our present Election Code, 80% of its members are appointed by the Chief and confirmed by the Council -appointed by politicians, in other words. If the Chief has a majority bloc on the Council, and if together they are inclined to act politically in the appointments of Commission members, we run the risk of a Commission that is simply a handmaiden to politicians. We may also run the risk of a Commission that is not particularly qualified for the job. I’m not saying that’s the case, but under our current system of appointing commissioners, there is a strong possibility that individuals can be appointed as part of a system of favors rather than on merit.

The change I would propose to our Election Code would substitute the appointment process with something resembling a hiring process. Cherokee Nation Human Resources could establish a set of qualifications, just as they would with any job. They could be the department that would verify the qualifications of applicants, but using a “blind review” as is used in awarding scholarships. Once they had approved the qualified applicant pool, they would step aside.

From then on, the five commissioners would be chosen from the qualified pool by random selection done by a completely unbiased…computer. And there it is, you have an independent, qualified Election Commission.

This system would remove the elected officials, the politicians, from the process of selecting commissioners, a process that lends itself too easily to corruption. But just as importantly from my perspective as your prospective Tribal Council representative, this is a system that would provide a greater chance of At Large citizens to serve on the Commission than is presently the case. There is no reason At Large citizens could not attend Commission meetings remotely or, if in nearby areas such as Tulsa, Muskogee, or Oklahoma City, in person. And yet At Large citizens are rarely considered for appointment to this Commission, although we have many individuals who would be qualified and interested in serving.

This is just one suggestion of a way in which our Election Code could be amended to insure more qualified and neutral appointments to the Commission. There are other ways it could be done. But whatever changes the Tribal Council might make, we need to conceive of ways to begin moving At Large citizens into full and equitable civic participation in the Cherokee Nation. I make that commitment to you.

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