Cherokee Nation Tribal Hearing On Chief Election To Continue Saturday

Friday, July 8th 2011, 8:30 am

By: News On 6 & Lacie Lowry, News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- Four election commissioners with the Cherokee Nation said Friday they believe last week's election recount in the race for principal chief was flawed.

"Affirms what we thought at the beginning of the week. It was a huge mistake of 200 to 300 votes," Principal Chief Chad Smith said.

However, the four commissioners said they have no evidence to support their claim and said all four of them certified the recount results as "accurate" the day of the recount.

Their testimony was part of a hearing held by the Cherokee Nation's Supreme Court Friday to try and determine who won last month's disputed principal chief election.

After the June 25, 2011, election, longtime councilman and challenger Bill John Baker was first declared the winner by 11 votes, but the election commission certified incumbent Chief Chad Smith as the winner by seven votes the next day.

Baker asked for a recount, which was done by hand last Thursday, June 30, 2011.  He ended up winning by 266 votes, mostly due to absentee ballot discrepancies.

Chief Chad Smith says there's proof absentee ballots were miscounted.

7/6/2011 Related Story: Cherokee Chief Chad Smith Makes Appeal To Supreme Court He Appointed

"You've got two sources of information that show there's 270 votes unaccounted for," he said.

But Baker's lawyers argued election commissioners double-counted during the original tally.

"We believe the double-counting resulted in an excess of 250 votes being counted. That accounts for the gap between the original tally and the recount," Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Baker's lawyer, said.

Smith is asking the Cherokee Supreme Court for a machine recount and a review of recount procedures.

"The evidence shows the original machine count was very reliable and everything points to human error," Smtih said.

Baker's attorneys say Cherokee law states the recount is official and final. They're asking the justices to uphold that.

During Friday's hearing, the court's justices heard from election monitors for incumbent Chief Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker and contractors brought in to assist with a recount.

"Each and every one of them felt they could not stand behind the very document they signed," Gayle Ross, a Smith supporter, said.

If the court finds there is enough evidence that votes were miscounted or not counted at all, it's possible the justices will call for a new election. Under Cherokee law, that duty falls to incumbent Chief Chad Smith, who remains in office until August 14, 2011.

The hearing will continue Saturday.  News On 6 Reporter Lacie Lowry will be in Tahlequah with the latest details.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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