Both nationally and locally, candidates are beginning to startup their campaigns for 2020. But one important election is taking place this year in Western North Carolina.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians are a sovereign nation with their own governmental structure. All 12 spots for the members of the tribal council as well as the principal chief and the vice chief are open since their 2 year terms are ending.
Robert Jumper, editor of the tribal-owned newspaper Cherokee One Feather, says that candidates are already announcing.
“Well it is pretty much a running process through 2019,” says Jumper. The filing deadline for candidates is in March and then in June we will have a primary and then in September we will have the actual general election.”
This year, the tribal council has spent a significant amount of time reworking election laws. The impeachment of Chief Patrick Lambert and a voter fraud case are among the reasons for that. Both cases occurred in 2017, says Jumper.
“Well we are certainly always concerned that something of that nature could happen. That was part of the need for making some of these changes such as candidacy requirements. It is a tragic thing in a tribal government for the chief to be impeached. We are hopeful that we will never have that happen again,” says Jumper. “We are certainly hope that the new laws we put in place will make it more clear what needs to take place if there is ever a question about the behavior of a tribal official.”
The tribe is a huge economic driver in Western North Carolina, thanks in part to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. However, there are only about 16,000 members of the tribe. Jumper says that makes elections different on the Qualla boundary.
“It makes a huge difference in how we treat candidates and how we treat candidates and how we treat elections,” says Jumper. “Most of our folks are somehow related to each other in some form or fashion. So it’s a more personal process.”
Jumper adds that the accomplishments in the last two years will likely be the biggest issue for voters - a familiar case for any election.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated at there are 1,600 enrolled members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. There are 16,000.