Published On: Thu, Apr 29th, 2021

Election case of Amy Anders heard at Cherokee Supreme Court

 

By JONAH LOSSIAH

One Feather Staff

 

Amy Anders’ case to run for the Wolftown seat of the Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) School Board has been denied by the Cherokee Supreme Court in a decision delivered on Thursday, April 29.

According to discussion in open court, there was an appeal made to the Election Board and a hearing held that did not favor Ms. Anders. The Election Board ruled in favor of itself, and Ms. Anders appealed to the Cherokee Court for remedy.

The Court heard this case on the morning of Thursday, April 29. Anders was contesting a decision delivered by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Board of Elections that deemed her unable to run due to the location of her residency. She has lived and voted in the Wolftown community for nearly two decades, but the Election Board is saying that her property resides in the Big Y community and not the greater Wolftown area.

The CCS School Board is made up of six seats. Unlike Tribal Council, Wolftown and Big Y have separate representation on the School Board. The Election Board is stating that Anders may only run for the Big Y seat, which is not up for vote this year. The School Board has four-year, staggered terms. Tara Reed-Cooper was elected to represent Big Y in 2019.

Anders was represented by attorney Robert Saunooke on Thursday. Mr. Saunooke says the true question that needs answering is not whether Anders lives in Big Y, but whether living in Big Y restricts her from running for the Wolftown seat.

Saunooke said nowhere in the governing documents does it state that Big Y was fully exclusive from Wolftown, only that Big Y is a part of Wolftown. Further, he stated that the Election Board does not have the authority to decide that exclusion, but that the Tribal Council is the only body who has the power to do so. Saunooke’s argument was that if the Tribal Council wished to make Big Y fully exclusive, it could have done so at any point over the last several decades.

Another situation that led to significant discussion was that Anders was denied the ability to vote at a Big Y election due to her being registered in Wolftown alone.

Wolftown and Big Y have separate polling locations, with all these votes being counted as ‘Wolftown’ except for that of the School Board vote. Anders was attempting to vote at the Big Y location the year the Big Y School Board seat was open, and that is why she was denied.

EBCI Attorney General Michael McConnell represented the Tribe in this case. He said that instance should have triggered the process of reviewing Anders’ community registration, but that it did not. McConnell said that he could not speak as to why that is.

McConnell also spoke to the odd structure of the School Board, demonstrating that it was ‘a creature of the Tribal ordinance.’ He inferred that the School Board is never mentioned in the Charter, and instead has been adapted throughout several decades of ordinances. This is similar to the makeup of the Tribal Court, itself.

Mr. Saunooke finished by saying that he felt aspects of the discussion got away from his argument. He said that his client was not arguing against the official community in which she resides, simply that the Election Board does not have the authority to exclude in this situation. He said that it doesn’t matter where in Wolftown you live, it is still the overarching community Wolftown. He said that unless the Tribal Council states otherwise, that should be the case for those that wish to run for a seat on School Board.

The decision was filed at 3:38 p.m., hours after the hearing. It read as follows:

‘After reviewing the record and hearing arguments of counsel, this Court hereby affirms the decision of the Cherokee Board of Elections. The Court issues this decision with an opinion to follow as soon as practicable due to the time restriction of the forthcoming 2021 primary elections.’

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