Community , Government

Special election conducted entirely in-house for first time

Absentee ballots mailed in for the March 20 Osage Nation special election are picked up for counting shortly after 10 a.m. by election officials and an ON police escort on March 20. BENNY POLACCA/Osage News

The Osage Nation’s 2017 special election marks the first time an election is being conducted in-house with the election staff and board members handling all duties.

In past elections, third-party election company workers aided on-site or by electronic means. Osage election officials say this is a milestone to have the election conducted by its own staff to cut down on costs.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Election Supervisor Alexis Rencountre picked up the 1,100-plus absentee ballots kept in a locked metal box at the Pawhuska Post Office with an ON police escort. Election Board member Belle Wilson recorded the transaction on a video camera, as well as the transporting of the metal box to the former Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center building where the election poll is located. Voting is open until 8 p.m.

Rencountre said videotaping the process isn’t required by Osage law, “but we do it as a practice to show we are holding ourselves accountable and transparent.”

With the absentee ballots now at the polling site, Election Board Chairwoman Shannon Lockett, Wilson and board member Terry Hazen are taking turns to verify absentee ballot signatures using a computer software program. Once the signatures are verified, the names are recorded as those who voted in this election.

Rencountre said this part of the process is crucial because once a voter’s name is recorded into the computer system, that person cannot vote again to prevent voter fraud. She said the system works both ways (at the Election Board’s computer and polling check-in table) in recording names so a person cannot vote twice.

The Election Office is continuing its contract to use the computer software services of Austin, Texas-based Hart Intercivic election company for this special election. The ON Election Office previously purchased computer equipment and services from the company for the 2016 general election.

After the election, the ballots and other election computer v-drives and documents will be kept in the Election Office vault for up to a year, Rencountre said.

At 8 p.m., the election poll will close and the election staff and board members will continue processing and tabulating the ballots before announcing the results. Like in previous election years, the election staff plan to announce the results in front of the Osage Nation Congressional Chambers building in Pawhuska.

As of 3 p.m. there are 172 Osages who voted in-person today, Rencountre said.

Check back with Osage News this evening for the election results.