The Wahzhazhe Elections Board certified the results of the June 1 Osage Nation General Election, which included the Congressional race for six seats and two Constitutional amendment questions with one of those passing.
On June 19, Election Supervisor Alexis Rencountre told the board no recount requests came from the 15 candidates and no challenges to the election results were filed either. Board member Terry Hazen motioned to certify the results and fellow board members Shannon Lockett (chairwoman) and Belle Wilson joined her in a unanimous vote to certify.
According to the election results, 2,449 Osages voted in the 2020 general election. This represents 14.94% of the total registered voters (age 18 and older), which stands at a total of 16,393.
On Election Day, 537 Osages voted in-person and a total of 143 voted during May 29-30 early voting hours, Rencountre said. Minus in-person voters, the remaining voter count came from 1,769 Osages who mailed in marked absentee ballots.
Incumbents Joe Tillman, RJ Walker and John Maker won re-election bids and incoming Congress members-elect Jodie Revard, Pam Shaw and Billy Keene will serve their inaugural four-year terms when they take their oaths of office on July 11.
The election results also note 1,680 Osages (11.43%) undervoted in the Congressional race, meaning those voters did not select a maximum of six candidates out of 15 on the ballot. Four ballots were overvoted with those people (0.16%) selecting more than six candidates on the ballot.
Voters also passed a Constitutional amendment question (ONCR 18-20) which places limits of five office terms on Osage officials who are elected, appointed and retained by election in all three branches. That question passed with 75.38% (1,846 voters) of Osages voting “yes” and 22.21% (544 voters) “no” votes.
Constitutional amendment questions require 65% of voters to approve the question with a “yes” vote, per the 2006 Osage Constitution.
A separate Constitutional amendment question (ONCR 19-07) asking voters whether the Principal Chief and Assistant Principal Chief should run for office on a combined ticket failed. That question failed with 57.45% (1,407 Osages) voting “yes” and 40.06% (981) voted “no.”
The 2,449 voters total for 2020 is four voters shy of the 2,445 total ballots cast in the 2018 General Election, which included the Principal Chief and Assistant Principal Chief races in addition to six Congressional seats.
2020 in-person voting discussion
The higher absentee voter count in 2020 comes as the Election Office encouraged Osages to vote absentee ballots as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic worsened in the early part of the year. With Osage elections constitutionally mandated to take place in June of every even-numbered year since 2010, the election officials brainstormed ideas and practices to keep voters and poll workers safe as possible from virus spread.
At the June 19 meeting, the board commended the staff and each other for the work efforts to plan the election arrangements in a time of COVID-19. The ON Civic Center served as the polling place, like in previous elections, to follow social distancing recommendations in the wide-open building space. Staff, board members and voters were also required to wear masks inside the building during voting hours and temperature checks also took place to screen for any potentially sick individuals.
“I really felt like that election went like clockwork,” Lockett said. “I don’t think we could have done anything better – the setup for being careful in preventing the spread of any of the virus was just as good as it possibly has been and having the nurse out front (to take temperatures of voters entering the polling place).”
Alternate Election Board members Anita Fields and Fred Byers also assisted the election staff that day as well as during the May 29-30 early voting days held at the Civic Center. Alternate board members serve as voting board members in the event a sitting board member must recuse his/herself due to any conflicts with an election, according to the Osage election code.
“I just felt like everyone was a Power Ranger that day having to be affiliated with everybody,” Fields said of the officials’ masked work efforts.
“I was very proud of all the safety precautions that we took,” Hazen said in agreement.
Lockett also addressed social media postings that showed Election Day crowds at the candidate campsites, which included photos showing crowds of people with many not wearing masks. “I’m disappointed that our (precautionary) recommendations weren’t followed (for the candidate campsites) up there, but that’s just the way that was,” she said.
That same week, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear closed the ON government campus after learning several individuals tested positive for the virus and some were at the candidate campsites and also attended a local funeral. All ON government employees were ordered to be tested and three were positive out of 478 employees.
Lockett said one social media post questioned whether people who tested positive also came to the polling place. She said Hazen called the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center COVID hotline to ask if any people testing positive reported they went to the polling place and she was told no. “That to me says nobody that we know (who tested positive) had said they came to the polling place,” Lockett said.
The Election Board is next scheduled to meet July 14 to wrap up unfinished election business, which includes the continuation of reviewing and certifying the second campaign reporting statements submitted by the candidates.