(Note: This editorial was edited on Tuesday, Sept. 12 with new vote participation figures.)
By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Tribal midterm election day has come and gone. Like the federal government model, the Eastern Band selects seats of its legislature – in our case all our legislature – every two years and our Principal Chief every four years, typically. Circumstances have shortened the administration of a Principal Chief and we now have a new Chief, relatively soon to have a new Vice Chief, and many new and returning members to the Tribal Council. Speaking to the Tribal Council race, the unofficial results tell the story of a population that is divided on views of leadership and public service, but determined to effect meaningful and thoughtful decisions about those who will be in service to them. The best leaders serve, facilitate, and rarely dictate. I believe that the people were focused on issues with their vote, not so much personalities. Eight of the twelve seats around the Tribal Council chamber will be filled with people who weren’t in them in the previous two years. Some veteran politicians and others new to the area of politics. Those seven seats represent 57 percent of the power of the weighted vote.
I think most of us knew that the races in many, if not all, of the communities would be close. We are still only working from the unofficial tally, but already some seats are only a vote away from a runoff or a couple of votes away from the representative changing entirely. I am sure that in the coming days and weeks there will be contests and challenges to the vote we cast. This is normal for an election cycle and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. I don’t envy our Election Board for the task that is now before them. They are like umpires. Even when they get the call right, someone is upset with them for making it.
Out of 6,864 eligible voters, the Election Board’s unofficial tally puts 6,118 votes on the books. The total number of voters participating was 2,974 (43.33 percent). And, it was a midterm election, which is typically an election with a lower voter count percentage. Just by way of comparison, in the 2014 midterm election, North Carolina voters came out at a rate of 44.02 percent, and nationwide, the rate was lower at 31.4 percent. During the presidential election of 2016, voter turnout in the North Carolina was 68.98 percent and nationwide only 55 percent of the people chose to selection the leadership of the nation.
Individual communities showed varying voter participation. Keep in mind that votes do not equal ballots or number of voters because each voter could cast up to two votes on each ballot.
Big Cove had 794 eligible voters and 705 votes were cast. The top two vote getters received 58.2 percent of the Big Cove vote. Each Big Cove representative seat carries a weight of 7 percent in Tribal Council decisions.
Birdtown had 1,783 eligible voters and 1,679 votes were cast. The top two vote getters in Birdtown received 55.8 percent of the Birdtown vote. Each Birdtown representative seat carries a weight of 12 percent in Tribal Council decisions.
Cherokee County/Snowbird had 874 eligible voters and 874 votes were cast. The top two vote getters in received 53.9 percent of the Cherokee County/Snowbird vote. Each Cherokee County/Snowbird representative seat carries a weight of 6 percent in Tribal Council decisions.
Painttown had 833 eligible voters and 684 votes were cast. The top two vote getters received 53.8 percent of the Painttown vote. Each Painttown representative seat carries a weight of 6 percent in Tribal Council decisions.
Wolfetown had 1,580 eligible voters and 1,480 votes were cast. The top two vote getters received 60.7 percent of the Wolfetown vote. Each Wolfetown representative seat carries a weight of 12 percent in Tribal Council decisions.
Yellowhill had 931 eligible voters and 696 votes were cast. The top two vote getters received 64.1 percent of the Yellowhill vote. Each Yellowhill representative seat carries a weight of 7 percent in Tribal Council decisions.
The largest vote gap in a race was in Wolfetown with a total of 128 votes separating the top and second most candidates. The smallest gap was in the Painttown race with only one vote separating second and third most candidates. The bottom three candidates in that race were only separated by three votes. There were 690 people who, could not or chose not to vote in this election. Again, these are unofficial, or uncertified, vote counts. Things could change. As stated earlier, close races spur recounts and candidate validity challenges.
Our leadership still hasn’t tackled the fact that we are having elections without a valid count of the people for this and several other elections. And, with the races so close in some communities, what impact would a census have had on the outcome on some races? A shift of 24 voters from one community to another would dramatically change the landscape of our upcoming legislative branch of government. Many races hinged on less than that. And, because we haven’t had the census required by the Charter in Section 19, which outlines the logic in having the census taken and its purpose in determining the number of tribal members in each voting community so that vote weight may be properly determined, are we having elections in violation of tribal law? If so, who is accountable for that? After all, our Tribal Council clearly stated that the Charter and Governing Document is the final word in our law, only revocable by a vote of the people. How is it that we are potentially doing business as usual without resolving this fundamental tenant of our law?
We need reform of the Cherokee Code and either modification of the Charter and Governing Document or a Cherokee constitution that will eliminate the ambiguity and contradictions with our law. Our current law causes our Legislative, and sometimes our Executive branches, to interpret the intent of law on a regular basis; a job that should be handled by a Judicial Branch. There must be a separation of powers in a functional democracy, lawmakers, law executors, and law interpreters. Establishment of a true third branch of government is one of the many needs for cleanup in our governmental law.
I thank those who will be retiring or taking a break from service in the legislature of the tribe. Your service in a significant time of tribal history has been difficult, to say the least. I appreciate your dedication and service to the Cherokee community. And, I wish heartfelt congratulations to the incoming members of Tribal Council. You are in my thoughts and prayers. We look forward to the service you will provide to your community.