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Voters reflect on Election Day process

Feedback was mostly positive at Casino’s first Election Day

“They open yet?” Casey Johnson asked as he walked up a few minutes after 8 a.m. at the Pawhuska Casino. They were – the first voter on Election Day already come and gone, right at 8 a.m. on the dot. As Johnson entered, the team had just finished up handling a form for a walk-in absentee voter who’d decided to vote in person instead of by mail. That procedure – which involved a form to override the absentee ballot – would be repeated many times throughout the day, as several first-time in-person voters turned up to help elect six Osage Nation Congress members.

Throughout the morning, voters trickled in, keeping the line short until the rain stopped at 1 p.m. and a small crowd grew.

“There was a line but it was quick,” said Eva Bills who traveled from Grayhorse to vote. Like most of the voters who visited the Pawhuska Casino on Election Day, Bills said the voting process was smooth and easy. 

“We go to great lengths to make sure everything goes well,” said Shannon Lockett, Election Board chairwoman who has been on the election day team 2009. She said the voting rate for Osage elections is similar to the state’s voting. “About 20 percent of eligible voters come out,” she said. 

A sign indicating handicap-accessible available at the back of the casino. Some interpreted the sign to mean one could only vote curbside and searched for where they might do so before finding the polls inside. CHELSEA T. HICKS/Osage News

Osage voter Brianna McBride lamented that the voting rate was not higher, and suggested that the election office might be ready to pull off pop-up voting locations in other places where Wahzhazhe reside in concentrated numbers.

Those who don’t turn out to vote may never have voted in a tribal election, McBride said. “They might not know how easy of a process it is.” 

Most said the process was indeed easy, from needing to only present a photo ID to interacting with election staffers. “The ladies at the [voting check-in] are so friendly,” said Sean Standing Bear. He took home one of the last of the free cups, and Osages who voted throughout the afternoon sported cardboard fans. 

There were several voters, however, who weren’t sure of exactly where to go. “Why was there no sign?” asked Carol Johnson, who traveled from Skiatook with two other constituents to vote. “Besides not having the signs, it was easy, smooth. We followed the crowd,” said Johnson.

Chad Renfro was unsure of where to find the voting area, too; a sign in front of the casino reading “curbside voting only” sent him around the back of the building, to a voting area intended for disabled constituents. Those in wheelchairs or otherwise in need of assistance didn’t know how to utilize that area, however. Voters such as Milton V. Labadie, Standing Bear and Randolph Crawford opted to vote inside. 

Crawford noticed the lack of indoor accommodations. “Some people might have needed a place to sit down [to vote], … and I had a relative years ago who needed someone to read the ballot to her because she couldn’t see the ballot,” he said.

Others were able to find the room where they could vote within the casino but initially didn’t realize the voting building location had changed from prior years.

“Last time I voted it was up on the hill … I did remember it was June 3 [for Election Day], but I didn’t pay attention [to the location] because it’s been up there since I’ve been voting,” said Ted Hazelbaker, who got his voting day details from a mailer sent a month or so prior. 

Several other constituents, including a voter who asked to be identified as Shane, and Kay Bills of Fairfax, said they also thought voting would be up at the hill or at the Civic Center. They were able to figure it out in the end, however.

Other voters indicated that they knew the poll was at the Pawhuska Casino because they saw posts on social media, heard by word of mouth, or found information online through either the Nation or through Osage News. “It was posted everywhere,” Dora Williams said. 

Technical difficulties were minimal, including a voting tabulation machine that did not accept one voter’s ballot. “The machine wouldn’t take it, so they voided it and then I had to do another one,” said Julie Wilson.

Ted Hazelbaker said he felt somewhat disappointed that the voting incorporated electronic processes, not only at check-in but also in tabulation. “I like to see that paper, to sign on it,” he said. “Computers might lead them to lose control.”

Still, many were pleased with the whole process, from logistics to candidates. “If the whole Nation voted like this tribe it’d be a better world,” said Labadie, who voted from his wheelchair at a booth set up at the perfect height. 

The voting process was “very simple,” commented Laci Bellieu, who only had to travel a half mile to cast her vote. For William Park of Skiatook, the voting experience was “easy [and] well-organized.” 

Tim Tallchief and G. R. Carter, who carpooled from the Norman area, also agreed that the procedure was well done and smooth. 

Most voters appeared to be in good spirits, no matter how they had traveled. Their journeys were far and near, from Catoosa, Hominy, Barnsdall, Grayhorse, and farther locations such as Alva, Okla., for Cherri Labadie Pfleider. Others came from as far as Texas, California, Virginia, and Colorado. 

First-time in-person voter Linda Clevenger was emotional, she said. “My dad always voted in person, so I decided to,” she said and drove from Skiatook to do so. Driving through Barnsdall and witnessing the destruction also made her emotional. 

“A lot of young people,” reflected election worker Fred “Freddy B.” Byers. “‘Gotta vote,’” he said, quoting the mentality he perceived in voting youths. 

Others were at the casino but hadn’t yet voted. They have until 8 p.m. to do so. 


Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hicks
Title: Staff Reporter
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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