Tribal Council tries to limit your access to candidates for office

The Choctaw Nation Tribal Council passed two pieces of legislation that will affect your access to information from candidates running for office. If you go to the "FILES" section of this website, you will find rules for a proposed mail out that will ask you to return a form giving tribal candidates permission to send you information on their platforms and qualifications to hold office. The other two files are proposed amendments to the Election Ordinances for tribal office, and a copy of the Ordinances as they now stand.

I encourage you to read over the ordinances. We will discuss those in a future article.

Now we will discuss this mail out. As you will recall, a similar mail out was done in 1999 under the term of former Chief Pyle. It basically asked if you wanted your name and address released to the general public. If you answered no, your name was not released to candidates for office. It is important to understand that the tribe has only given out the names of tribal voters to candidates since 1985; before that, they gave out names and addresses. This is because they were required to furnish the names and addresses of tribal voters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs by the PL 93-638 contracting of tribal membership and voting from the BIA. IN 1985 the tribe changed its policy and said that they would no longer furnish the names and addresses to tribal candidates, as the tribal attorney had informed (wrongly) the tribal council that releasing the names and addresses would be a violation of the federal Privacy Act. This is in spite of the tribal attorney being a counsel concurrently for the Chickasaw Nation, where candidates for office could get a full list of names and addresses for $35.00. A candidate for the office of Chief, Harriet James, tribal councilperson from Pittsburg County, sued the BIA for the list they were given by the tribe under the PL 93-638 contract.

The duplicity of the tribal administration and the Muskogee Area Office of the BIA was made evident when, just before the decision in favor or Ms. James's request was decided, the Muskogee Area BIA office, working with the tribal administration, changed the requirements of the contract and the Choctaw Nation was required to furnish only the names of tribal citizens. So when the order came down from the Eastern District Federal Court in Muskogee, the BIA handed a list of names with no addresses or other identifying information to Ms. James, making that list essentially worthless.

The mail out by Chief Pyle was misleading in that it suggested that the list would be given out to junk mailers and spammers. This was, of course not the case, but a well crafted attempt to instill fear into the hearts and minds of Choctaw voters, and limit other candidates access to the electorate. The Administration insisted that it and their hand picked tribal council supporters would have the same access, but many Choctaws continued to receive information from tribally selected candidates. In addition, tribally sponsored "appreciation dinners" for tribal council men and the Chief were held in all districts and shown in the Bishinik, as well as "cultural trips" where tribal council men could meet voters, and the Chief could deliver a State of the Nation address reviewing all the wonderful things that he claimed had come under his administration.

The impact of these "unofficial" campaign trips on the absentee and National vote was reflected in the 1995 re-election of Hollis Roberts, who was re-elected by 86% of the popular vote, in spite of being indicted by a Federal Grand Jury one month prior for the sexual assault of three female employees and Federal Charges having been filed in the case. The conclusion is that Choctaws were unduly influenced by these dinners and trips and newspaper articles and did not know what had been going on, or that the Choctaw people do not mind electing accused rapists as their Chief. I think it is clearly the former.

In spite of the attempt to put fear into the hearts of tribal voters with a suggested threat of spam mail, the mail out under Chief Pyle did two things: it put the burden on the backs of those tribal members that, for what ever reason, did not want to allow tribal candidates access, but requiring them to return the card with the questionnaire marked "no," and either marking "yes" or not returning the card at all was to indicated that you did want to fully exercise your right to free speech by casting an informed vote. And the actual number of questionnaires returned with a no answer demonstrated that only a very small percentage of voters wanted to deny candidates access to their name and address.

However, the current mail out puts the burden on those who wish to continue to express their right to free speech, as they have always done, by wanting full access to candidates' platforms and qualifications in order to make an informed decision and cast a vote that fully allows their participation. If you do not send in the questionnaire marked "yes," and provide the Election Committee with personal information that will not be released to the tribal candidates, by the date on the form, or your questionnaire is damaged through no fault of your own, you will not be allowed to receive information from candidates, and their appears to be no appeal process, nor no clear way to correct or change this designation in any future election.

But the most important thing to consider is the reality of this. In no City, State, or Federal election are citizens allowed to "opt out" of mailings from candidates for office. That is because of two things. Voting is both a privilege and a responsibility. We as voters have a responsibility to cast an informed vote for the people who will lead this country and set policy. If the fear of receiving unsolicited mail or being exposed to negative information is so great that it outweighs your responsibility, then simply do not register to vote. Request that the Choctaw remove you totally from the voter's list. The other thing is the idea that the right of the electorate to access to the candidates is inextricably entwined with the right of candidates to have access to the voters, that the two rights are needed to guarantee full participation. A government that sets up legislation to deny access to the electorate for any voter stands in violation of the right to free speech.

All of the Five Civilized tribes, except for the Choctaw Nation, allow full access to the voters for all tribal candidates. All but two very small Oklahoma tribes allow full access. And there has never been a case of that voter's list being exploited by tribal candidates. If all other tribes, and the city, state and United States you live in can be trusted to safeguard that list, why would any Choctaw feel their fellow Choctaw would not be able to do the same?

This is a non-issue. It is an attempt by members of the tribal council to keep their $151,000 dollar a year jobs and nothing more. Choctaw voters should be outraged at this attack on their rights and this disregard for reform. There is no excuse for it. Your Choctaw brothers and sisters are making their feelings known. You the reader can read the articles I have mentioned for yourself- we have provided them here. That is how one makes a decision, That is how one is informed. Nothing to hide. And that is the right you should have as a tribal citizen in your election process.

Accept nothing less.