Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Throws Out Chief Election Results
Lacie Lowry and NewsOn6.com,
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- In a ruling issued Wednesday, the Cherokee Supreme Court vacated the results of the June 25th election - calling them invalid. So the Nation is preparing for a new election for the office of Principal Chief.
The June 25, 2011, election started with Bill John Baker as the unofficial winner, Chief Chad Smith as the official winner, then Baker the winner again after a recount.
The justices say the mathematical uncertainty made it impossible to certify a successful candidate.
Get the campaign signs out again and break out the candidate T-shirts once more -- stumping for Cherokee Principal Chief is picking back up.
"I think it was the proper decision, and I think it was what the people of the Cherokee Nation wanted the outcome to be," said Bill John Baker, candidate for Principal Chief.
Of all the possible options the Cherokee Supreme Court considered, a new election was the only remedy Bill John Baker and Chief Chad Smith both welcomed.
"A new election gives us the opportunity to clear the air and start over again and regain the confidence of the Cherokee people and the election process," said Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith.
The big question now is when will the nation hold the new election? The justices did not mention a time frame.
Cherokee Nation election law states the election commission chairperson will notify the Principal Chief, so that he may order a new election to be held "as soon as practical."
Baker thinks that day should be August 13th.
"The chief's term stops on August 14, and the new term starts on August 14, and I believe the people deserve to have a leader in place," he said.
But Chief Smith doesn't want to rush things and plans to have a date set by next week.
"I and the Cherokee people want an election as soon as possible, but one that's not encumbered with these kinds of issues," he said.
The election commission says it can hold a new election within 30 days. Voters say they can't wait to get back to the polls.
"I don't know if the other one was done right, and I want this one to be done right and correctly, said Eva Garner, Cherokee voter.
Both candidates agree that this race is all about the people.
"They've told me time and times again, don't stop fighting for us," said Bill John Baker.
"Every vote counts, every voice counts and their voice is critical in determining the future of the nation," said Chad Smith.
The election commission is meeting Thursday to finalize several issues, including whether to allow pencil or just pen on the new ballots, whether to include the 3,000 people who registered to vote after the election deadline and campaign contribution limits.
The attorney for the Cherokee Election Commission, Lloyd Cole, said the commission will use the same independent contractor it used in the first election, Automated Election Services.
Thursday's ruling will not impact a runoff election this Saturday for deputy chief and three council seats.
Statement released by Chief Chad Smith:
"Throughout this election, every time all the ballots were properly counted and tallied, I had the most votes. Because my margin of victory was so narrow, the court has decided a new election is required. I welcome the new election, and I'm confident that when the ballots are counted after the new election, I'll still have the most votes.
What we've seen since June 25 should help our voters decide who is best suited to serve the Cherokee people. Every day since then, I've calmly advocated that the process should proceed and that orderly recounts and appeals processes should be followed.
On the other hand, Bill John Baker has taken turns either demonizing the Cherokee people who make up our election commission, or praising them as infallible, depending on if he thought he was ahead or behind. He threw out easily disproved theories of misconduct by the election commission, which the court and now the Cherokee people have seen on video are not true. He didn't care what he said, what he did or who he hurt as long as he won the election. That's not the kind of leadership the Cherokee people deserve and it's not the Cherokee way.
In the next few days, we'll hear more from Bill John Baker about how it's everyone's fault but his that he didn't win this election. But the truth is, Bill John Baker didn't win this election because he didn't get enough votes. Any of the other stories he tells are just straight from the script his Washington DC consultants handed him to read.
This chapter is over, and our Cherokee volunteers are fired up about the new election. We're ready to talk about the great things we've accomplished in the past 12 years with the help of the Cherokee people. We've created 5000 new jobs and increased health care spending from $18 million a year to more than $300 million. We do all this work for one reason and one reason only: we care about our people and about our children's future. When people look around and see the progress, they know we are headed in the right direction.
Cherokee people know how to handle tough situations. We're strong and ready for a challenge. I look forward to this new election as a chance for us to emerge as a stronger people, a stronger Nation."
Bill John Baker issued a statement about the court's ruling:
"I want to thank all Cherokees who voted in the last election. I promise you that your voice was heard and your hopes for leadership that puts you first will be fulfilled.
First let's recognize the facts that Chad Smith called his hand- picked Election Commission "incompetent" so he sent his vendor into the vault holding ballots who miraculously found one number to change in less than 10 seconds and flipped/declared Smith the winner. The video tape proves it. Smith's proven he can and will use outside vendors, whiteout and erasures to change ballots and stop from being ousted. There's no question we won the race and we'll do so again.
But what's important today is we finally take back our Nation from Smith and his insiders. By Cherokee Law the chief determines the next election date. Chad Smith must not continue to cling to power and put himself before our Nation. He must call for a new election immediately.
Smith's term ends on August 14th so I propose we hold an election on Saturday August 13th. We need an election immediately so our Nation can dispatch Smith and his insiders who carve up the casino money as they see fit while they cut our health care, fly a private plane on our dollar whenever their family needs a vacation and shakes down our good people for money to pay for his campaign.
Also I hope Smith agrees that following his shady actions the past month, this election must be above board so I challenge him to follow the law and not accept money from anyone who has already reached their maximum contribution limit. In the past Smith has taken and sent money to the likes of Jack Abramoff so my challenge and the Nation's concern is certainly warranted.
We would hope he will agree to not take more money from people who have already given him $5,000. Does Smith want to be above board and follow our Nation's laws or not. We'll see.
I look forward to continuing my discussion with our Nation's amazing people. We will come out of this stronger and as your next chief I can promise you we will break up the power structure and a system that must be changed."