Government , Candidates

Election Office mails 2,921 absentee ballots for 2020 General Election

With 2020 being the year the COVID-19 coronavirus canceled or postponed public gatherings and events, more Osages plan to vote by absentee ballot in the 2020 Osage Nation General Election.

The Wahzhazhe Elections Office mailed out a total of 2,921 absentee ballots for this year’s June 1 General Election, according to Election Supervisor Alexis Rencountre. The Election Office utilized a Tulsa-area printing company – selected by the Election Board – to print the absentee ballots and accompanying envelopes and those items were put together by election staff and mailed from the Pawhuska Post Office.

Voters who are listed on the permanent absentee voter mailing list or who requested an absentee ballot by this election year’s April 17 deadline are set to receive those ballots in the mail.

The 2,921 figure represents another all-time high in absentee ballots requested by Osages to vote. In the 2018 General Election, a total of 2,390 absentee ballots were mailed out to requesting voters.

In the March 20, 2017, Special Election, 2,070 absentee ballots were requested. In the June 6, 2016, General Election, the Election Office received and processed 1,032 absentee ballots.

In April, the Election Board and staff issued a memo to voters stating the election will continue as mandated by the 2006 Osage Constitution despite the day-to-day changes in the COVID-19 global pandemic situation. The Osage Constitution states “General Elections shall be held on the first Monday in June commencing in 2006 and next in 2010 and every even year thereafter.”

With no recourse available, the election officials then said: “We are urging all voters that are high risk or have concerns about the COVID-19 virus to request an absentee ballot.”

Election Code amendment

The Election Office processed and mailed the absentee ballots April 20-22, which comes after the Sixth ON Congress passed a last-minute amendment to the Nation’s Election Code allowing the absentee ballot mailing to begin 45 days prior to Election Day from 35 days previously stated in the law.

The Election Board and staff discussed concerns the U.S. Postal Service mail circulation is also impacted by COVID-19 during its April 8 meeting, prompting the amendment proposal to allow extra time for the absentee ballots to be mailed out and returned before June 1. Congresswoman Alice Goodfox sponsored bill ONCA 20-38 with the amendment, which was filed on April 14 and fast-tracked for consideration on April 17.    

The bill passed 8-4 with “no” votes from Congress members John Maker, Eli Potts, Shannon Edwards and Maria Whitehorn.

Edwards noted ONCA 20-38 did not go to a Congressional committee for initial consideration and she voted against it because the candidates have already been notified of the election-related dates and said: “This could be grounds for invalidating the election, I know that the candidates don’t even have the list of who the absentee ballot holders are. I believe this is a very important timeframe, people have invested a lot of time and energy in their campaign, they invested money in their campaign, and they deserve to know when things are going to happen.”

Congresswoman Brandy Lemon said she favors the amendment because “it allows our constituency to have a longer time and it allows our Election Board to be able to reach our constituency and that’s who we are all here for … This (COVID-19) is not normal what we’re going through, this is abnormal … and we have to evolve and change, and this is one of the things we can do to help our constituency … in hope of getting a good voter turnout in my opinion.”

Potts voted “no,” arguing “we shouldn’t move the goal post … changing the law at this point, in my mind, creates a level of uncertainty ... we needed to make those changes months ago or we need to make them after this election and plan for the next election.”

Goodfox said she spoke with Election Board Chairwoman Shannon Lockett who requested the bill sponsorship. “(The Election Board) felt like it would give them more time to mail out the ballots, they can start with the people who (are on the permanent absentee voter mailing list), there’s going to be an influx in mail … We had no idea we would be at the place we are at right now … registered absentee voters can get their absentee ballots 10 days earlier, that’s all this does,” she said.

The Wahzhazhe Elections Office toll-free number is (877) 560-5286 and the email address is electionoffice@osagenation-nsn.gov for election-related inquiries.

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