Law | Politics

Cherokee Freedmen lose right to vote in upcoming chief election





About 2,800 Freedmen descendants lost the right to vote in the upcoming Cherokee Nation chief election.

The election takes place September 24. Absentee ballots were mailed yesterday, a day after the tribe's Supreme Court ruled that the Freedmen aren't entitled to citizenship in the tribe.

"On behalf of the Cherokee freedmen, I am both disappointed and saddened at the court’s ruling handed down yesterday," attorney Ralph Keen Jr. told The Tulsa World in a statement. "Because the Cherokee Nation justice system has failed them, the Cherokee freedmen have no option to resort to the federal courts or the halls of Congress for the vindication of their rights."

Incumbent chief Chad Smith advocated for an amendment to the tribe's constitution that excluded the Freedmen. He is locked in an extremely tight race with challenger Bill John Baker.

“It is obvious this decision is the tool (Smith) is using to regain his position as chief and deliver the blow to eliminate my citizenship and other Cherokees who have held this status since 1866," Marilyn Vann, who lost her citizenship, told The Oklahoman.

Only a handful of votes separated Smith and Baker in the first election, whose results were thrown out by the tribe's Supreme Court.

Get the Story:
Attorney for Cherokee freedmen questions timing of tribal court ruling (The Oklahoman 8/24)
Freedmen descendants decry tribal court ruling (The Tulsa World 8/24)
Cherokee election officials scramble to adjust voter rolls (The Cherokee Phoenix 8/23)
Second-largest U.S. Indian tribe expels slave descendants (Reuters 8/23)

Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Cherokee Nation Registrar v. Nash (August 22, 2011)

Related Stories:
Decision allows Cherokee Nation to remove Freedmen from rolls (8/23)