NewsOn6.com & Dan Bewley, News On 6
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- The Cherokee Nation Election Board has begun a recount of the votes cast in the principal chief race between incumbent Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker.
Election board officials said Thursday they would keep going until the re-count had been completed, adding that their efforts could last until early Friday. More than 15,000 votes were cast in Saturday's election, and workers are going through the ballots by hand.
The recount was set to begin first thing Thursday morning, but didn't. Questions about the integrity of the ballots delayed it.
The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court held a five hour hearing Thursday morning to determine whether the election commission should recount results from last Saturdays election.
The Supreme Court met inside the election commission office. The court interviewed the commission members and the president of the firm that makes the machines which tabulated the votes.
Outside the building, dozens of supporters for Bill John Baker lined the driveway and parking lot.
"We really feel like we're not being treated fairly, we feel like there's a lot of fraud," Tera Black, a Baker supporter, said.
Many supporters for Bill John Baker accuse Chief Chad Smith of influencing the vote count. Smith denies the allegation.
"It's a very mean spirited, negative kind of protest. It's directed towards me, not the advocacy of some particular position," he said.
Baker was told he was the winner of the election on Sunday morning by 11 votes. But Monday afternoon, Chad Smith was declared the winner by seven votes.
The commission has offered no explanation as to why the vote totals changed.
The Supreme Court was trying to determine if the ballots were preserved in the way they are supposed to be under Cherokee law or if any unauthorized person came in contact with the ballots.
Baker's attorney claims the ballots were compromised leading to 20 votes being changed after Sunday morning.
But the Supreme Court disagreed.
"The ballots remain secure, not been tampered with. It was a unanimous finding of the court and that the recount can go forward. Chief Smith is very pleased and is looking forward to the recount," Dean Luthey, Chad Smith's attorney, said.
"As the process has unfolded, we have had more and more questions raised that are troubling," Chuck Hoskin, Baker's Attorney, said. "The real victims here are the Cherokee people. They're presence here today was not in support of Bill John Baker, it was in support of a process."
Regardless of Thursday's decision, Bill John Baker is still planning to file an appeal and contest the events that took place this past Sunday and Monday.
The court also ruled the Cherokee Nation Election Commission should turn over all related election documents to both Baker and Smith. Baker says that has not happened.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.