Cherokee Nation Voters Are Being Denied Their Rights With Flawed Rules

As a candidate for Cherokee Nation Chief, I cannot stand by idly and accept the Cherokee Nation Attorney General’s recent opinion issued on the eve of voter deadlines that denies over 700 Cherokee citizens their right to vote in the upcoming election. Someone must stand up for Cherokee’s rights.

During the past few months, 700 Cherokees used their finger or a mouse to sign their name on a computer voter registration document, just as the State of Oklahoma Election Commission allows. The voter’s document was then printed and submitted to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission.

Just weeks ago, the Attorney General, a Chuck Hoskin political appointee, issued an opinion which carries the weight of law until overturned by the Court. The Attorney General’s opinion states that the Cherokee Nation Election Commission should deny those 700 Cherokees voter registration forms – making them ineligible to vote if the Commission suspected their signature was not written with an ink pen on paper.  On March 24, the Election Commission started following the AG’s opinion and rejected those applications.

There was no statutory or legal basis for the AG’s opinion. In 2016, the Election code was updated to include “handwritten” before signature and to allow a “copy of the original signature” to satisfy requirements for requesting an absentee ballot. There is no prohibition of an electronic signature or a requirement of “pen to paper” in the law. In fact, the Election Commission’s attorney questioned why a signature with one’s finger was not considered handwritten. Comically, the Attorney General’s signature on her opinion was electronic.

What is even more disturbing is the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has failed to set a hearing for a lawsuit challenging the Attorney General’s Opinion and the Commission’s denials of voter registrations. On March 27, 2023, in the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court case of Papineau v. Election Commission, Cherokee citizens filed their appeal of the Election Commission’s March 24th decision to reject all voter registration applications and requests for absentee ballots which may have an electronic signature, including those that were written with a mouse or with a fingertip on a screen.

The Election Code mandates the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court to issue notice of a hearing date within three days of receiving an appeal of an Election Commission decision, which was no later than March 31.  As of April 10, the Court had not issued any notice for hearing and the Election Commission had not responded.

We should be encouraging our citizens to vote and have a real voice in their own governance. I call upon Principal Chief Hoskin to join me to encourage his Attorney General to reconsider her Opinion and to join the Papineau case to ensure Cherokee citizens voting rights are protected.

It is wrong for the Attorney General to establish law denying voters’ rights and it is a violation of the law for the Court not to timely give those whose rights were denied, a chance to challenge that denial.