By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The Cherokee One Feather met with Denise Ballard, EBCI Election Board chairperson, and Shirley Reagan, Election Board member, on Thursday, April 4 to discuss the vetting process for candidates filing for election for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The remaining members of the Board not present for the interview include Margaret French, Annie Owens, Roger Smoker, and Pam Straughan.
Chairperson Ballard outlined the process that the Election Board goes through to verify that each person filing for an elected position has the qualifications to run for that position. The Cherokee Code outlines the requirements for being a candidate. A potential candidate cannot be found to have committed a felony, participated in defrauding the Tribe, been impeached and removed from office, have resigned from a tribal office while under a criminal investigation, or be more than 90 days in default of a debt to the Tribe, or not meeting residency requirements. Any one of these violations would be cause for disqualification and no time limit is in law as to how long ago the offense would have been committed.
Chairperson Ballard stated that the five-member Election Board investigates, collects, reviews, and adjudicates the candidate’s fitness in running for office. Each member of the Board has an equal vote as to whether the prospective candidate may run for office, and the majority rules. The Election Board has one paid administrative employee, and that employee does not participate in the investigation, nor deciding the ability of a person to run for office.
Once filing closed March 15, the review of candidates began. The Election Board, according to law, had until the last day of the month to review, investigate, judge, and release a final candidate list for the primary. Within the law, it states that if the last day of the month falls on a weekend, the Board has until the next business day after the weekend, which is what happened this year with the list being released on Monday, April 1.
The Election Board members used the resources of Tribal Human Resources, Qualla Housing Authority, and the Cherokee Courts. The Board also receives information from community members, for information on potential candidate residency, in addition to utility bills and school attendance records.
The community also provides information and documentation that the Board members will review and, if they feel there is any need, investigate further. The Board related it takes their responsibility seriously, and it is not a “light-hearted” process.
Once all the information collection has been completed, the Board meets and votes, based on the evidence available, on each potential candidates’ fitness to run for office.
If a person is found fit to run, they will be put on the ballot for the Primary Election in June. If they are not, they have options for addressing the disqualification. Disqualified candidates either appeal the decision, which will be heard by the Board. The person may bring any evidence or explanation to the Election Board for consideration, and there is no cost to the prospective candidate for the process. If their appeal fails before the Election Board, then they have the right to the Cherokee Supreme Court for a decision on the Election Board’s assessment.
Chairperson Ballard stated that, under the law, the tribal government does not have authority in the process of candidate selection. The Tribal Council creates the election law to be followed and appoints the members of the Board. Within the law, the Council established a separation of the Election Board from the government to curtain political manipulation. The Tribal Council and Executive Office do not have the authority to add or subtract persons from a candidate list or race. The Election Board is the sole authority except for a court-settled dispute.