Chad Smith named winner
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation Election Commission overturned the unofficial results in the principal chief’s race Monday afternoon and declared current chief Chadwick “Corntassel” Smith the winner by seven votes.
Bill John Baker, originally named the winner based on the unofficial results announced early Sunday morning, issued a statement Monday evening demanding a recount. As per Cherokee law, he has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to request a recount or 5 p.m. Monday to challenge the results.
The election commission’s announcement came within 15 minutes of a press conference called by Smith to announce his campaign would challenge the unofficial results that placed Baker ahead by a 7,600-7,589 margin.
“There are provisions in place for recounts, recalls and challenges and we will honor them,” Smith said at the press conference.
“The Cherokee people have a right to know. I’m confident that when this is done it will show that I will continue to be the principal chief,” Smith said.
Roger Johnson, chairman of the Cherokee Nation’s election commission, would not comment on the difference between the results posted Sunday morning and those certified Monday by the commission.
“The results announced Sunday morning were unofficial,” he said. “These are the official figures.”
The figures announced Sunday morning came after the election commission spent all night reviewing more than 250 challenged ballots cast across the tribe’s jurisdiction. Those ballots came into play when the two principal chief candidates were separated by eight votes when data from all 39 precincts was reported. Those provisional ballots were not originally counted and as of Monday night, election commission officials had not disclosed how many from each precinct or district were allowed in the final tally.
The official results released on Monday did not include total vote counts by district or precinct either.
More than 30 people spent Saturday night at the election commission awaiting those results, including Baker, Smith and Deputy Chief candidate S. Joe Crittenden of Stilwell, Okla.
Observers from all three camps took turns watching the results run across a large flat-screen television positioned in an election commission window, comparing notes and occasionally sending one or two people in to town to bring back coffee and snacks. With the rest of the tribal complex closed and the election commission building shut off to all but the officials poring over the ballots, both camps also sent car loads up the road every few hours to the Cherokee Casino for bathroom breaks.
After coming out ahead Sunday morning, Baker’s campaign was caught off guard by Monday’s announcement.
"We are shocked at these developments," said Jonathan Levy, a senior member of the Baker campaign. "We are trying to fully understand what has happened. We are reviewing all options."
If the Baker campaign files a recount request by the Wednesday deadline, the Cherokee Nation’s election commission has until 5 p.m. Friday to complete the recount. If the campaign challenges the election results or recount results, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has until July 7 to schedule the appeals hearing. Inauguration is scheduled for Aug. 14.