OKMULGEE — At least for now, the unofficial vote counts will remain the same in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s primary election.
On Thursday morning, Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Court Judge Jeremy Pittman dismissed a motion from Principal Chief candidate Bim Stephen Bruner to allow tardy absentee ballots to be included in the count from Saturday’s primary election.
“I have no jurisdiction to add votes to the tally,” Pittman said. “That would set a dangerous precedent.”
However, Pittman did not disturb his previously issued order requiring the tribe’s Election Board to collect and preserve absentee ballots received between 11 a.m. on election day and 11 a.m. Saturday. The primary election’s challenge period ends at 5 p.m. Friday.
According to unofficial returns, about 5,100 Muscogee (Creek) voters participated in Saturday’s primary, including more than 2,300 via absentee ballot. However, the Bruner campaign claims at least 356 voters requested an absentee ballot but did not receive one in time to vote, prompting the complaint.
As was the case in the discarded September primary, Bruner finished second on Saturday behind Second Speaker David Hill. Barring a successful challenge from one of the other four chief candidates, the two will advance to the tribe’s general election on Dec. 14. Just 10 votes separated Bruner from the third place finisher, National Council Speaker Lucian Tiger III.
“I’ve never heard of an election challenge before the election actually happened,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Election Board attorney Roger Wiley said. “And a candidate who qualified for the run-off is challenging the results. That’s a new one.”
During Thursday morning’s hearing, Kyle Haskins with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General’s Office drew raised eyebrows and murmurs from the crowded courtroom when he raised the two possibilities available under the tribe’s legal precedents should Bruner’s motion be granted.
“The relief this court could grant, your honor, is to throw out the election and have a third primary,” he said. “The other option is that the Supreme Court has previously ruled … in a 1991 case to have the election board disregard all absentee ballots.”