Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

September 26, 2011

Carter Center observes CN election

Representatives from the organization will visit all 38 precincts, and plan to stay until all votes are tallied.

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation voters who cast ballots Saturday may have done so with more confidence, as a delegation from The Carter Center was on hand to observe procedures.

At the invitation of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, The Carter Center deployed a small delegation for the special election for principal chief. Over the past week, delegates have interviewed election commissioners, political contestants and others to assess the electoral process. On Saturday, members of the delegation were present for in-person voting, and will also observe during the vote tallying process which will take place after Oct. 8.

“The June election for Cherokee Nation principal chief and its aftermath created uncertainty about the process,” said Avery Davis-Roberts, assistant director of the Carter Center’s Democracy Program. “The Carter Center hopes that our mission to observe the special election will reassure Cherokee voters, and will help strengthen the efforts of the election commission, Tribal Council, political contestants, and civil society to ensure the integrity of future elections.”

Following the June 25 general election, several recounts, and an extended court battle, the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation ruled the election for principal chief invalid, due to the inability to determine the results between former Principal Chief Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker, a two-term tribal councilor.

The Carter Center previously observed the 1999 elections in the Cherokee Nation.

On Saturday, Gordon Streeb, head of the Carter Center delegation to the Cherokee Nation, said he expected the election to go well.

“There’s a sense that outside observers, especially as experienced as the Carter Center is at observing elections, that this instills a certain degree of confidence; that someone who is not at all engaged in any way in the local situation is looking at how the procedures are carried out during the day and how any kind of disputes are resolved,” said Streeb. “And, of course, normally we would like to be directly observing what’s happening with the vote counting, which we will have to now postpone for a while. But our basic purpose is to, based on our experience, really see how and to what degree the procedures are carried out.”

With regard to vote tallying, Streeb referred to the recent proposed federal court order requiring the CN to reinstate approximately 2,800 descendants of Freedmen and allow them to vote in the special election. The tribe’s Supreme Court stripped Freedmen of their citizenship on Aug. 21, and the group filed suit in federal court. In addition to voting on Saturday, the order requires the CNEC to provide two additional voting days prior to Oct. 8. The CNEC ruled last week Freedmen would be allowed to cast ballots at the election commission offices between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.

All ballots cast in the special election will not be counted until after Saturday, Oct. 8, and are to be secured by the CNEC in its vault.

Streeb said he feels confident the ballots will remain secure.

“This is not the first time we’ve seen a situation in which votes have been sequestered for a length of time,” said Streeb. “We have to have some confidence in the security provided by the Cherokee Nation. We’re in no position to have someone sitting there until the tallying process begins. In my own experience, I put a lot of trust in the parties. If there’s any doubt about security, I would think the candidates would come together to provide for representatives to observe.”

According to Streeb, outside the two Cherokee Nation elections, the Carter Center’s  work is generally conducted outside the United States, observing international elections.

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