Unregistered voters cast tribal election ballots

By Jarrel Wade and Gavin Off
Tahlequah, Oklahoma (AP) July 2011

A Tulsa World review of Cherokee Nation records shows that at least 31 votes in the recent principal chief election appear to have come from unregistered voters.

Twenty-nine of those votes are in addition to the 149 votes that incumbent Chief Chad Smith, who narrowly lost the June 25 election, has contested. The candidates were separated at one point by 11 votes and then later by only seven votes. A June 30 recount resulted in Smith’s losing his position to challenger Bill John Baker by 266 votes.

The Tulsa World compared an electronic list of people who voted in the tribal election to an electronic list of the tribe’s registered voters. The World matched first, middle and last names in both databases and eliminated cases in which name variations could have occurred.

The review shows that at least 31 names appear on the Cherokee Nation Election Commission’s database of people who cast ballots but whose names do not appear on the tribe’s list of registered voters. Two of those 31 names also appear in Smith’s list of 149 contested names, records show.

Election Commission staff members were unable to confirm whether the 31 people were in fact registered voters.

The World received both lists from the commission, which refused to supply the voters’ dates of birth for additional confirmation.

About 53,000 people are registered to vote in the Cherokee Nation, and about 15,000 people voted in the election for principal chief, deputy chief and council seats.

Smith filed an appeal asking the Election Commission to order a machine-conducted recount of ballots cast in the June 25 election or to invalidate the election and call for a new election. In the appeal, Smith filed exhibits claiming that the first and last names of 149 voters matched those on a list of people who had relinquished their Cherokee citizenship and should not have been allowed to vote.

Roger Johnson, who turned in a resignation letter as Election Commission chairman, said it’s possible that out-of-date registration data was used, but registration data comes from another tribal office, he said.

“That’s just not one of our responsibilities,” Johnson said. “I would assume that they are under the impression that it’s up to date through registration.”