NewsOn6.com & Emily Baucum, News On 6
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- The Cherokee Nation election commission says its official count of the ballots from last weekend's election give the victory to incumbent principal chief Chad Smith by seven votes.
The certified results released Monday afternoon in Tahlequah have Chad Smith with 7,609 votes and challenger Bill John Baker with 7,602 votes.
Over the weekend, the unofficial results had Baker winning by 11 votes.
"If you recall at the close of Saturday night, at the close of the regular ballot count, I was leading. And something happened between 2 o'clock in the morning and 7 o'clock the next morning. I was trailing," Smith said.
Smith has held the job for 12 years. He wanted to keep it and vowed to fight for it.
"Issues like this that are important to the Cherokee people should be decided in the light of day and not the dark of night," he said.
"Every vote does count," Smith added.
The tribe has nearly 300,000 members, making it one of the biggest in the nation and the largest in Oklahoma, where it has a 14-county jurisdiction.
News On 6 asked Roger Johnson, the chairman of the election commission, about the reversal.
"What we had published earlier early Sunday morning was the unofficial results," he said.
Johnson refused to elaborate but Chief Smith says it had something to do with the results of 250 challenged ballots.
"Basically if they're not allowed to vote at the poll, the election commission looks at those differently," Smith said.
Baker, a longtime tribal councilman and Tahlequah businessman, released a statement late Monday afternoon:
I want to thank all the members of the Cherokee Nation who supported our uphill bid in our effort to return the position of the Chief to the people. I am going to do everything possible to live up to the trust you've placed in me.
On Saturday you spoke loud and clear, and I am going to fight for you to make sure that the voice of the majority of Cherokees- who voted for a new direction – is heard.
I am obviously shocked that after an arduous and complete vote count that had our campaign in the lead against an entrenched incumbent with all the powers of the government at his disposal today some numbers were found to be incorrect and we're now seven votes behind.
I am absolutely demanding a recount and will address the specifics of such in the next two days. I ask that all Cherokees and specifically my thousands of supporters stay calm as we get to the bottom of this election.
We are a proud people who believe in honesty and transparency. And most importantly the integrity of our Constitution and nation must never be in question as that could also risks our sovereignty.
Voters fully rejected the attempt to lift all term limits for Smith. The question is did they also decide that three terms is enough already. I promise all Cherokees we'll answer that question.