“I may point out that they may be an independent agency, but anything that exists with Muscogee (Creek) Nation today, exists for one reason and that is the citizens.”
— MCN Election Review Committee Chairman Tom Burtnett
Inquiring body given limited timetable to recommend law changes
OKMULGEE, Okla. — Muscogee (Creek) Nation Election Review Committee Chairman Tom Burtnett shared two reasons he believes led tribal leaders to establish a body to review the MCN election process.
“There was, at that time because of the elections, there was all the talk of non-transparency in the tribe and then I think a lot of the candidates found problems when they dealt with the Election Board,” he said.
The ‘Muscogee Nation News’ emailed MCN Election Board chairperson Diane Meeker the afternoon of Oct. 14 regarding the concerns in this article and did not receive a response as of press time.
The committee was established through TR 16-061, which passed during the May 21 MCN National Council regular session.
According to the legislation, the review committee will provide recommendations to streamline and improve the electoral process before the next election.
“The resolution just says that this committee would meet and give recommendations in January 1, 2017, to the principal chief and the attorney general and the National Council and Election Board,” Burtnett said. “And then, according to the resolution, then the committee will be finished.”
TR 16-167 proposing a deadline extension for the committee to March 1, 2017 received a do-pass 3-0, with Rep. Rufus Scott absent during the Oct. 10 Council Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting.
The Council will vote on it during the Oct. 29 quarterly session.
He said their limited timetable led them to set meetings at least twice a month, which are typically held the second and last Tuesday of each month.
“Then, since we’re three months behind, they signed it at the end of May, then that would have formed the committee in June,” Burtnett said.
He said the December meetings will be held on the sixth and 20th due to the holidays.
Burtnett encouraged citizens to attend and participate.
“And we just don’t want to be five citizens putting together these things but having input from the citizens,” he said. “And the more active participation we have, I think the stronger that we would have a chance when the final report is given…”
The committee consists of five Muscogee (Creek) citizens, two selected by the principal chief, two by the Council and one by the Election Board. The members did not require confirmation by tribal resolution.
The principal chief appointments are Burtnett and Shirley Almerigi. The Council’s are Sandi Golden and Richard Anderson and the Election Board’s is Famous Marshall.
The original legislation assigned the fifth board member as a Carter Center Democracy Program designee. The center was previously considered by tribal resolution to review the process during election season last year.
The law states the committee is to confer with parties involved in elections at the tribe on a regular basis and make written reports once a month and oral reports quarterly to HEW.
Burtnett said the committee will focus their recommendations on MCN Code Annotated Title 19, titled ‘Elections.’
The Title 19 chapters pertain to:
Primary and general elections
Organization of the Election Board and precinct election committees
Candidacy for office
Conduct of elections
Certifications and contests
Penalties and amending the title
“We had a charge among all of us that we had to go through Title 19, all 14 sections of it and then rank each subsection in it as far as if it’s going to have to be addressed in the committee or if it’s something that regardless of what we come up with it will probably be OK,” Burtnett said.
According to Article 6, Section 6 of the MCN Constitution, laws in the Code are amended through Council majority vote followed by approval from the principal chief.
This is unless the amendment is vetoed in which case this can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote of the full Council.
Burtnett outlined some of his personal priorities such as the cost and efficiency of the election process, voter participation initiatives as well as communication with the public and candidates.
Burtnett said he is concerned about the level of citizen participation.
“The other thing, voter registration, are the number of citizens out of the 80,000, that vote is so low,” he said. “I mean we had out of 17,000 registered voters in the 2016 election, had about 5,000 votes.”
Burtnett referred to Title 19, subsection 4-104, which sets forth a registrar process for the Election Board Staff manager.
‘Said voter registrars shall be located in such a manner geographically as to provide convenient access for all qualified electors of the county,’ it states.
Election Board Staff Manager Nettie Harjo stated by email that they set up this process near election time and that her office does not currently have a list of registrars, which have to be registered voters of the tribe themselves.
‘We normally use a precinct worker from each district but usually closer to Election,’ she stated. ‘Any citizen can come in and request to be a registrar.’
‘Fewer and fewer citizens are actually going to District polling sites and Absentee voters have decided virtually Every Election, in recent history.
‘Years ago, the Election Board visited the Chickasaw Nation whose elections have been total Absentee for years and they experience voter participation regularly in the 40% range and sometimes more! In the Creek Nation, 14% is about average,’ Courtwright stated.
Burtnett said he also wants to see how this would affect the cost of holding elections.
“And we have very high costs in the elections because we have 18 precincts and the number of people that have to be used for a primary and general in those precincts,” he said. “And then the service that does it, you know they have to provide all the computers and voting booths and everything for those 18 precincts.”
Burtnett said he is concerned that the Election Board only posts their meeting agendas on a bulletin board in the Solomon McCombs Building on the MCN Tribal Complex in Okmulgee.
“And I think they do that because they think that they’re fulfilling the Code but how many of the citizens walk into the McCombs Building on a monthly basis?
“And how many of the citizens that are outside the boundaries are going to ever see an agenda? And they never post it on their Election Board website or the section in the tribal website,” he said.
Burtnett said he believes the Board member confirmation process needs to be changed to where the principal chief and Council are not involved.
“Well they’re not going to do anything then that would adversely affect their relationship with those people you know?
“So the way the Board is set up, I do not think that is to the benefit of the everyday citizen the way the Board is set up. That would require a change in the Constitution and Title 19,” he said.
Besides confirmation, Article 4 of the MCN Constitution determines the process for voter eligibility, ballots as well as election outcomes and dates.
There are several ways set forth in the Constitution on how to amend it, all of which involve citizen approval.
“I may point out that they may be an independent agency, but anything that exists with Muscogee (Creek) Nation today, exists for one reason and that is the citizens,” Burtnett said. “And the citizens have the power to get rid of or change anything about Muscogee (Creek) Nation.”
‘MNN’ interpretation of MCN laws and procedures is based on our research and interviews possible on our production schedule, through our resources and based on our experience and ability.