Cherokee court's ruling may affect Baker's apparent election win
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
10/12/11 at 10:43 AM
Editor's note: This story has been updated with vote totals as of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Vote totals as of 10 p.m. had Bill John Baker ahead of Chad Smith by 1,534 votes - 10,633 to 9,099. His lead increased slightly as updated totals became available.
Read past stories and
view key documents in the Cherokee Nation election.
TAHLEQUAH - According to unofficial election returns, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council member Bill John Baker apparently will be the tribe's next chief, but the results of the Sept. 24 vote may be in jeopardy because of a tribal Supreme Court ruling Tuesday.
The unofficial tally had Baker leading former Chief Chad Smith by 1,575 votes - 10,703 to 9,128 - as of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. The tribe's Election Commission was still reviewing and counting about 150 challenge ballots - those given to someone whose name is not on a voter registration list at a precinct.
But at noon Tuesday, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court issued an order saying it would not recognize an agreement brokered in federal district court last month that reinstated the tribal citizenship of 2,800 freedmen descendants.
About 1,200 descendants of Cherokee freedmen - former slaves of the tribe's members - are registered to vote in Cherokee elections, but it is not known how many did cast ballots in the Sept. 24 election.
On Aug. 22, the tribe's Supreme Court had upheld a 2007 tribal referendum that disenrolled the freedmen descendants and required at least one Cherokee ancestor on the final Dawes Rolls in order to apply for citizenship.
The court ruled Tuesday that Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden did not have the authority to make an agreement on the tribe's behalf that would violate its constitution without bringing it before the rest of the tribe.
The court order came after the agreement reached in federal court was filed as a foreign judgment with the tribal Supreme Court Clerk's Office on Sept. 22.
Because the Cherokee Nation is a sovereign entity, any rulings or orders involving the tribe that are issued by a judiciary other than its own must be filed with the tribe's Supreme Court.
In the ruling, the court said it was acting of its own accord - meaning without a request for a ruling by any other party.
On Tuesday afternoon, the tribe's attorney general, Diane Hammons, issued a statement that the Cherokee Nation could not simply ignore an order from the federal government.
"Although our Cherokee Supreme Court is our highest court, it cannot set aside a federal court order," Hammons wrote. "The orders in the federal Nash case, which temporarily gave the disenrolled Freedmen their citizenship rights back, including the right to vote in this election, and provided for additional voting days, is a valid court order, binding upon the parties until it is set aside by the Northern District of Oklahoma, or a federal appellate court."
The Cherokee justices could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and officials at the U.S. Interior and Justice departments in Washington declined to comment on Tuesday's developments.
As word got out about the Supreme Court order, about 20 Cherokee voters - mostly Baker supporters - flocked to the Election Commission parking lot to see whether the ballot count would continue.
After the commission verified and counted about 9,000 absentee ballots, Cherokee Nation marshals came out of the commission office at 5:10 p.m. to distribute copies of the unofficial results.
With a copy of the results in his hand, Baker told a group of supporters and reporters that "this paper says: 'Our administration will start shortly.' "
"It's time for the healing to begin," he said.
Up the road at Smith's campaign office, the mood was more subdued as the results came in.
"The count is in," Smith said to about 30 supporters, including former Chief Ross Swimmer, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Melanie Knight and head Marshal Sharon Wright. "It's been a long campaign. I'm happy and fortunate to have served the Cherokee people for 12 years.
"I would have liked to have continued, but it does not look like that will happen. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Smith said he had not had a chance to review Tuesday's order and would not comment on his immediate plans, including whether he was conceding or appealing the election results.
With the complete, unofficial results now in, the commission will have 48 hours to certify the results. Once the results are certified, recount requests will be accepted for up to five days. Appeal requests must be filed within 48 hours of the recount deadline.
Almost 20,000 tribal members voted in the special election, an increase of 5,000 from the June 25 general election.
The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ultimately invalidated the results of that election for principal chief after multiple recounts yielded different figures. It ruled that the results could not be guaranteed with mathematical certainty, the standard called for in the tribe's constitution.
World Washington Bureau reporter Jim Myers contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Baker's apparent win clouded
Freedmen descendants timeline
2007: Cherokee tribal members vote by a 77 percent margin to remove freedmen descendants from their tribal rolls.
Aug. 22: Cherokee Supreme Court upholds 2007 referendum.
Sept. 20: Agreement reached in federal court to allow freedmen descendants to vote in the second election for principal chief. Federal lawsuit on permanent status of freedmen descendants remains pending in Washington.
Tuesday: Cherokee Supreme Court rules that it will not recognize the federal agreement allowing freedmen descendants to vote.
Bill John Baker speaks to media in Tahlequah on Tuesday following unofficial election results showing him as apparent winner in the principal chief's race. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World
Chad Smith embraces Holly Miller in his campaign office shortly after unofficial election results in the special Cherokee election were released favoring challenger Bill John Baker in Tahlequah on Tuesday. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World