Smith wins 'official' count
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
6/18/12 at 2:38 PM
Correction: A Tuesday Tulsa World story about the Cherokee principal chief election contained incorrect information. More than 250 challenged ballots were originally not counted and the tribal election commission did not recount any ballots on Saturday night and Sunday morning, officials said. This story has been corrected.
TAHLEQUAH - The Cherokee Nation Election Commission said Monday new "official" results in the principal chief's race give the victory to incumbent Chief Chad Smith by seven votes.
Earlier results published on the commission's website Sunday morning listed Tahlequah businessman and current tribal council member Bill John Baker as the winner by 11 votes, 7,600 to 7,589.
On Monday afternoon, however, the commission released results that gave Smith a 7,609-7,602 victory, a margin of .04 percent.
Baker on Monday evening demanded a recount.
"I am absolutely demanding a recount and will address the specifics of such in the next two days," he said in a statement. "I ask that all Cherokees and specifically my thousands of supporters stay calm as we get to the bottom of this election."
He had not filed a formal request for a recount on Monday but has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to do so.
The outcomes of the three referenda and other nine offices on the ballot were not affected by Monday's count.
Roger Johnson, chairman of the Cherokee Nation's election commission, would not comment on the difference between the results posted Sunday morning and those released Monday by the commission.
"The results announced Sunday morning were unofficial," he said. "These are the official figures.
"I've been familiar with the last four or five (Cherokee Nation) elections. This is definitely the closest one and can't remember one more contentious than this."
Election Commission attorney Lloyd Cole said he expects there will be a recount.
"We will wait for the (tribe's) Supreme Court to decide the accuracy of the results," he said.
As per Cherokee law, recount requests must be filed by 5 p.m. Wednesday. Any other challenges to the election results must be filed by Monday.
The election commission's revelation came less than 30 minutes after Smith announced at a news conference at his campaign headquarters that he would be challenging the unofficial results from this weekend's election.
"This election is not over. We have processes in place - checks and balances. There are provisions in place for recounts, recalls and challenges and we will honor them," Smith said.
"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 is a three-term incumbent first elected chief in 1999.
Within 15 minutes of the news conference's conclusion, looks of determined resolution at Smith's campaign headquarters gave way to grins and exuberant cheers as volunteers and staffers received the news from the election commission.
Down the road, reaction from the Baker camp was decidedly different.
"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."
Monday's tumultuous turn of events followed an all-night session of counting votes from when polls closed at 7 p.m. Saturday to nearly 7 a.m. Sunday, when results were announced.
More than 30 people camped at the election commission office at the Cherokee Nation headquarters overnight, including Smith, Baker, members of their campaigns and other candidates.
Observers 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 to town to bring back coffee and snacks.
Cherokee voters also rejected measures that would have ended term limits for the chief and council members.
"Voters fully rejected the attempt to lift all term limits for Smith," Baker said in the statement. "The question is did they also decide that three terms is enough already. I promise all Cherokees we'll answer that question."
Officials with the election commission said the official results broken down by district and precinct will be available later this week.
Key upcoming dates
5 p.m. Wednesday: Deadline to file request for recount
5 p.m. Friday: Deadline for election commission to complete any requested recounts
5 p.m. Monday: Deadline to file election results challenge
July 7: Deadline for Cherokee Supreme Court to schedule election appeal hearing
July 23: Runoff elections for tribal council posts and deputy chief
Aug. 14: Inauguration
Saturday night: Results for principal chief initially reported, with the margin of victory in favor of incumbent Chad Smith at fewer than 10 votes.
Saturday night-Sunday morning: Cherokee Election Commission considers more than 250 challenged ballots originally disallowed from the vote total. Those ballots included voters whose names were not on specific precinct lists.
Sunday morning: Vote totals released - 7,600 votes for Bill John Baker; 7,589 votes for Smith. Baker is apparent winner by 11 votes.
Monday: Election commission releases new results - 7,609 votes for Smith; 7,602 votes for Baker. Smith is declared official winner by seven votes.
Monday night: Baker demands recount. He has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to make that request.
Monday's total of 15,211 is 22 votes more than Sunday's total of 15,189. The election commission offered no details about the additional votes.
A statement from the election commission said, "... every election commission does a canvassing of the votes and as a result of this canvassing, these are the official results."
Chad Smith: The three-term incumbent was named Monday as winner of the Cherokee principal chief election.
Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith speaks in Tahlequah during a news conference Monday about Cherokee Nation election results. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World