The chief-elect of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes called on the incumbent to give up the post Tuesday, as tribe officials confirmed a new election could be called if the bitter back-and-forth and legal wrangling don’t stop.
A recount determined longtime councilman Bill John Baker had defeated chief Chad Smith by 266 votes in the June 25 election, but Smith wants another recount. The election was very close, with Baker first declared the winner by 11 votes, and then Smith announced as the winner by seven before the recount threw the election back to Baker.
Smith has since appealed, and the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court set arguments for Friday. If things get any more contentious, the court could intervene and order a new election, officials said Tuesday.
Baker called on Smith to give up the office he’s held for 12 years, saying Cherokee law allows for only one recount and it’s time to move on.
“Today I ask Chad Smith to drop his appeal of the election for the sake of our nation,” Baker said at a news conference in front of his Tahlequah furniture store. “Chad Smith can continue to sue his way around losing the election in what is frankly a desperate attempt to cling to power.
“However, I think everyone would agree that he would lack the moral authority to lead,” he said.
Smith’s supporters disputed the notion that Baker was the outright winner, saying there was a lot of room for error when the ballots were recounted and the process needs to be further sorted out.
The chief inaugurated on Aug 14 will lead Oklahoma’s largest tribe, with nearly 300,000 members and a $600 million budget. Cherokee officials still say they expect all the legal challenges to be resolved by then.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission quit Tuesday. Roger Johnson’s resignation letter said his character has been damaged by the bickering over the vote count, and he blamed the media for that. The commission said June 26 that Baker won, but its certified results a day later said Smith had won. Thursday’s recount ended with 251 fewer votes counted.