By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
(Editor’s Note: The One Feather has requested a full, clean copy of the ordinance that was passed from the EBCI Attorney General’s Office and the TOP Office and has not received it as of publishing. We will amend this post with that information as soon as it is received.)
After spending months in the works, a new election ordinance is now in effect for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Tribal Council passed the ordinance during a special session held Wednesday, Dec. 19 and Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed ratified the legislation later that day. Two amendments were introduced prior to passage. One was to strike the portion requiring a referendum vote to overturn the results of a referendum, which passed. The other was to add two more election board members, which failed.
The changes address ineligibility for office, particularly for those who’ve been impeached and removed from office. It also addresses the certification process, conducting recounts and runoffs, handling the filling of vacancies of offices, petitioning for referendums, early voting procedures, protests and irregularities, unlawful campaign activities and securing ballots and the Board of Elections’ offices.
Changes in the election law were inspired largely by irregularities in the Birdtown community after last year’s Tribal Council elections. These irregularities resulted in a recount and runoff election. Some in council opposed passage because they felt the ordinance was being rushed through.
Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor said, “I won’t support this ordinance as it is. I can’t support it until we get it right.”
Big Cove Rep. Richard French pointed to two new amendments and said the ordinance wasn’t ready. He moved to kill. “There’s still work to be done on this ordinance.”
Chief Sneed answered that ample time has been given to work on the ordinance and provide opportunity for input. “We’ve had five marathon work sessions on it.” He said the law gives transparency and accountability. “It ensures what everybody says they want.”
One of the most contentious points of the ordinance was whether Tribal Council should have the authority to overturn the results of a referendum vote. At the work session held Tuesday, Dec. 18, Council members voted to approve an amendment that requiring a referendum vote to overturn the results of any referendum.
Community member Becky Walker advocated for the amendment. “It only gives strength to the power of the referendum vote.”
“My concern is being able to amend that…setting a hard line and not being able to amend some of these referendums to better serve our people,” Vice Chairman David Wolfe said.
The amendment’s approval prompted an irritated response from acting EBCI Attorney General Mike McConnell. “I strongly advise against taking the action that you just voted on. I think it’s wrong 100 percent. It’s wrong. It’s absolutely wrong for tribal council to give up its authority to make law.”
McConnell explained his position at the special session. While McConnell understands the political implications of going against the results of a referendum, he said any requirement that impeded Council’s ability to create and enforce laws would go against the Charter and Governing Document. He said and equivalent at the federal level would be deemed an impermissible delegation of authority. “You are really hamstringing the tribe.”
Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, who said he made a mistake in initially approving the measure, moved to strike the amendment from the final ordinance. “I think this is going to hamper tribal council. We cannot tie our hands with this amendment.”
The ordinance passed by a vote of 8-3. Taylor, French and Cherokee County/Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown didn’t vote to pass. Chairman Adam Wachacha, whose father, the former Council Rep. for Cherokee County/Snowbird Abe Wachacha, died Dec. 15, was absent.
Chief Sneed was pleased by the passing. “I would like to thank the Tribal Council representatives for their due diligence in properly vetting this resolution. The (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Tribal Council has hosted eight separate work sessions, with one of those including an evening session, allowing community members to provide input. I would like to thank those Tribal Council members that worked on and approved this ordinance, as I believe it is an important part of keeping our election process fair and equitable amongst candidates.”