COMMENTARY: The woes of voter participation in EBCI elections

by Jul 1, 2019OPINIONS





Let’s talk about EBCI voter turnout.

After looking over the results of the 2019 primary election, I can’t help but feel somewhat discouraged by us as a Cherokee people. We had an abysmal 38.97 percent voter participation. What’s worse is that many people don’t seem to care.

I know that it’s the primary, and that turnout will but up for the general, but it’s still confusing to me. Considering how many people talk about the Executive office and Tribal Council, you’d think more of us would be voting. I’m not sure what it’s going to take, either.

Maybe we can rest on the idea that turnout will be up this September. It is a Chief’s election after all. However, in 2017 the participation was just as bad in the general. There was a measly 0.1 percent increase from the primary to the general, from 44.23 percent to 44.33 percent. But again, we’ll see how much difference the Chief’s election makes.

It’s not as if there aren’t incentives to vote. I somewhat understand in the case of a United States election (though I still think it’s important to participate in that as well), because there were over 120 million voters in the 2016 Presidential election. There are also over 200 million eligible voters in the U.S. On top of that, our country is still using the electoral college system. So, yes, it does at time feel like your vote gets lost.

However, our tribal elections are very different. There’s no electoral college that decides the Chief. There aren’t hundreds of millions of voters. There were just 6,767 registered EBCI voters in 2019 primary. That means every vote matters.

So, when I’m studying this primary election and I see that I cast one of just 294 votes in Yellowhill, it made me question a lot of things. It’s just sad. 294 votes out of a possible 923. Sure, there are barriers for some people to get to the polls, but there isn’t a legitimate excuse for 31.85 percent turnout.

Yellowhill isn’t the only community, though. The highest percentage was tied between Birdtown and Wolftown at just 43.49 percent. Cherokee County only mustered 96 votes and held the lowest turnout at 22.43 percent.

This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot more because of the ongoing discussion of our governing documents. As has been consistently documented, there is a proposed constitution in the works. I’m not going to go into the specifics of the constitution itself, but I want to talk about the feasibility of it actually passing.

Whether it currently had the full support of Council or not (which it doesn’t), the likelihood of it getting through on referendum is extremely low. To pass a vote, the referendum would need 51 percent percent voter participation. It would still need a majority of the votes cast as well.

Which makes one of the arguments against the constitution mute, as well. Many people have suggested that instead of replacing the Charter as a whole, simply amending the Charter to make it stronger.

First of all, the Charter just a flawed document. There aren’t established civil rights, there are no specifics regarding Grand Council, there is not a judicial branch, and in general there is a lack of specifics all throughout it. It’s going to take a lot to ‘fix the Charter.’

I say this because in order to amend the Charter, it must go through the same process of passing a constitution. It must pass via referendum with at least a 51 percent voter turnout. I don’t see how doing this for all the issues in the Charter is going to be any faster.

There are going to be a few things that people disagree on, but that’s a given in government. The United States Constitution wasn’t perfect, and in the eyes of a lot of people it is still very flawed. It’s a lot better than having no civil rights, though.

To use an analogy, if I may, it seems to me that we are trying to fix a car that doesn’t run instead of buying a new one for the same price. Even if we figured out a lot of the issues, it will still need replacing eventually.

This all goes back to voting. I’m not sure what the best method is. Reducing the minimum required voter participation seems dangerous. However, I’m not sure how the masses would feel about Tribal Council being able to vote through amendments directly.

These are questions that need answers. Otherwise nothing is going to change.