Bill John Baker has been declared the unofficial winner in the election for principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, election commission officials announced Tuesday evening. Preliminary numbers show Baker received 54% of the vote with 10,633 ballots cast. Incumbent Chad Smith received 46% of the vote with 9,099 ballots cast.
The election has been embroiled in controversy since June. Both Baker and Smith were at one time declared the winner, prompting the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court to order a new election. Then in August, the court stripped the Freedmen, descendants of slaves once owned by tribal members, of their citizenship and right to vote in the special election.
An agreement to maintain the citizenship and suffrage of the Freedmen was ordered in two separate cases in federal court in September. Tuesday morning, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court struck down the agreement in one of those cases a federal judge had recently dismissed.
Following the Cherokee supreme court’s ruling, the tribe said it would abide by the agreement still in effect in the second Freedmen case, recently transferred from federal to Oklahoma court.
“The Cherokee Nation is a nation of laws, and we pride ourselves on being true to those laws,” said Diane Hammons, Cherokee Nation Attorney General. “Chief Crittenden and I agreed to the temporary order because it was far less intrusive and suppressive to our tribal government than what the Plaintiffs had sought. We faced the potential loss of federal funding, interference with our governmental relationship with the United States, and the prospect of not having a determinative election for our principal chief.