January 23, 2017

Indian Attorney Association to help voters on election day

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Indian Bar Association (OIBA) will be staffing a non-partisan voter assistance hotline on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, 2012 to help make sure that voters don't have problems casting their vote at the polls. "If they do have any problems, such as determining their correct voting place, if they are registered, or what ID is needed under Oklahoma’s new voter ID law, we'll be available to assist them by telephone," said Arvo Mikkanen, president of the Oklahoma Indian Bar Association and co-chair of it’s ELECTION PROTECTION PROJECT. The OIBA has also set up an Oklahoma voter resource page on its website www.oiba.net.

On election day, voters can call 405/602-9425 or 1-877-286-2918 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. for phone assistance from a volunteer. The OIBA’s phone assistance line is part of a greater nationwide effort, referred to as "Election Protection" which is aimed at helping citizens exercise their right to vote. The nationwide non-partisan Election Protection project includes over 100 groups and attorney associations as described on the www.866ourvote.org website, which itself has answers to many questions voters may have. There is a national hotline also staffed on election day, which is 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-866-687-8683.

"Oklahoma’s new voter ID law may also be unfamiliar to some, since a photo ID with an expiration date or a voter registration card is now required in order to vote this year," said Mikkanen. While tribal issued IDs are mentioned in Oklahoma’s law, it also requires that an ID have an expiration date after the election and a photo. With the exception of new Cherokee Nation IDs, none of Oklahoma’s tribal governments have IDs with expiration dates and many do not have photos. "Tribal enrollment IDs generally do not have expiration dates, because its like having an expiration date on your blood type... it doesn’t change over time," he explained. As a result, the vast majority of tribal ID cards likely will not qualify as a valid ID for voting purposes. "We are urging people to remember to bring an unexpired state or federal issued photo ID to the polls this year or they can use their paper voter registration card." said Williams.

"Voters should always realize that they don’t have to give up and can at least cast a provisional vote, if for some reason they cannot adequately verify their identity, or have other registration problems on election day," said Mikkanen. The election workers and the voter can then afterward determine whether the provisional ballot will be counted.

Oklahoma law provides an employer must grant up to 2 hours of leave to vote, if oral or written notice is given by the employee before election day. Leave to vote does not apply if a voter’s shift begins after 10:00 a.m. or ends before 4:00 p.m. on election day. On presentation of proof of voting, an employee may not lose compensation or be penalized for being absent to vote.

Calls about voters having questions or other voting difficulty will be taken by an attorney or volunteer. "Ideally, we hope that there are no problems and the phone will not ring on election day, but if it does, we will do our best to help the voter get the information they need to cast their vote, " said attorney Joe Williams, the other OIBA ELECTION PROTECTION PROJECT co-chair.

"We're also fortunate that an Oklahoma City branch office of a Washington, DC law firm, Hobbs, Straus, Dean and Walker, has donated space and the use of their phone system and computers for this public service," said Mikkanen. "It's an excellent example of how attorneys can help the average citizens exercise one of their most fundamental rights - the right to vote," he said.

OIBA’s ELECTION PROTECTION PROJECT, although particularly aimed as assisting American Indian voters, will not just be serving tribal members. "We'll do what we can to help anyone who calls on election day if the need arises," Mikkanen said.

This is the third time the OIBA has had a voter assistance hotline and most of the calls in past years have not been from tribal members.

Voters are also encouraged to consider early voting by going directly to their county election board. "Reading the text of the state questions ahead of time, rather than waiting to do that at the polls should also be considered due to their length and complexity," said Williams. The County Election Board Offices in Oklahoma are open on Friday, November 2, Saturday, November 3, from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. and on Monday, November 5 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. for early voting.

For those wanting more information, please consult the OIBA's Website at www.oiba.net or contact the nationwide website www.866OURVOTE.org for more information. For specific registration questions, persons can also contact their local county election board.