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Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | September 18, 2023

School board, mayoral races a bigger draw than tribal chief election

Ray Carter

On Sept. 16, David W. Hill was reelected as principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, according to unofficial results posted by the tribe.

That was the extent of the good news for Hill, electorally speaking, because he won that race with the support of only 2.4 percent of Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens.

The raw number of votes Hill received for chief was less than what candidates routinely draw elsewhere in races for everything from school-board seats to elections for the Oklahoma Legislature, even though the total number of potential voters in those other races is far smaller than the membership of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

The results of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation election highlight the reality that even though many Oklahomans are members of tribal nations, the majority of those citizens do not participate in tribal government and the chiefs of those governments speak only for the smallest sliver of tribal citizens.

In the Sept. 16 primary election for principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, there were only 4,026 total votes cast with 2,350 of those voters supporting Hill’s reelection.

On its website, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation declares that it is “the fourth largest tribe in the U.S. with 99,801 citizens.” The 2,350 votes Hill received represent just 2.4 percent of all Muscogee (Creek) citizens.

Not all 99,801 citizens are necessarily old enough to vote, but if the demographics of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation are comparable to those of the entire state of Oklahoma, about 76 percent of the 99,801 citizens are likely age 18 or over. Yet only 18,147 Muscogee citizens even register to vote in tribal elections, according to NonDoc, highlighting the broad disconnect between the average tribal member and the tribal government.

Members of the Oklahoma Legislature represent districts with smaller populations than the 99,801 citizens claimed by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, yet many lawmakers are elected with a much larger raw vote total than what Hill received to become chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

In the last round of redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census, state maps were redrawn so that each state Senate district had about 81,935 residents and each state House district had 38,939 Oklahomans with a maximum 5 percent deviation allowed.

While each Senate district is home to fewer people than what the Muscogee (Creek) Nation claims as citizens, lawmakers elected in the seven Senate races on the November 2022 general-election ballot all received far more raw votes than Hill did to become chief.

Where Hill received just 2,350 votes to win another term as chief, state Sen. Ally Siefried, R-Claremore, was elected with 20,951 votes. State Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond, had the support of 19,876 voters. State Sen. Grant Green, R-Wellston, won with 19,819 votes. State Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City received 10,199 votes. State Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, won with 10,365 votes. State Sen. Dana Prieto, R-Tulsa, received 10,069 votes and state Sen. Cari Hicks, D-Oklahoma City had 16,602.

In the November 2022 elections, there were 31 state House races on the general-election ballot. In every one of those districts, the winner received more votes than the 2,350 votes Hill received in his tribal governor’s race this year. In fact, in some House districts the losing candidate also drew more raw votes than Hill did.

Hill also received fewer raw votes than several mayors in Oklahoma and even city commissioners in some races.

In the June 30, 2020, election, both candidates for mayor of Muskogee received more raw votes than Hill did in his race for tribal governor, receiving 3,977 and 2,748 votes apiece compared to Hill’s tally of 2,350.

That same day in 2020, the top vote-getter in the race for mayor of Shawnee received 2,978 votes, while the top candidates in three separate races for Shawnee commissioner positions received 3,578 votes, 3,472 votes, and 3,104 votes apiece.

Mayoral candidates are not the only ones receiving more raw votes than the governor of one of Oklahoma’s highest-enrollment tribes.

Also on the June 30, 2020, ballot, the winner of a Guthrie school board race received 2,934 votes and a candidate for school board in Norman received 2,595 votes. The number of votes cast that day for all candidates in a school board race in Moore totaled 4,064, exceeding the total number of votes cast this month in the race for Muscogee (Creek) Nation governor.

The winners of races for associate district judge in counties across Oklahoma in November 2022 also outpolled the total votes cast for Hill in his race for tribal governor of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including in counties that are home to fewer people than the total membership of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Judges that received more raw votes than Hill included the winner of associate district judge races in Carter County (population 48,510), Garvin County (population 25,713), McClain County (population 45,306), Muskogee County (population 66,354) and Stephens County (population 43,710).

The winners of those judicial races drew between 5,292 votes and 9,359 votes apiece, compared to just 2,350 votes cast for Hill in his race for tribal chief.

In a 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation was never formally disestablished for purposes of the federal Major Crimes Act. As a result, Muscogee (Creek) Nation officials now argue that most of Tulsa is on a Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation along with all residents of an 11-county area lying within the tribe’s historic reservation lines.

Hill has publicly feuded with Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is Cherokee, over Stitt’s objections to the McGirt ruling. In 2022, Hill joined a handful of other leaders of tribal governments, all of whom were elected by only a small fraction of their tribes’ citizens, and endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joy Hofmeister.

At that event Hill portrayed himself as being on equal footing with the governor of Oklahoma rather than the head of a subsection of state citizens.

“She (Hofmeister) understands the table is round,” Hill said. “It’s not rectangular shaped anymore where she sits at the head of the table. The table is round and she sits with other tribal leaders.”

In his 2022 reelection, Stitt received 639,484 votes.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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