A second manual recount of votes in the hotly-contested Cherokee Nation principal chief’s election began on Saturday, but campaign officials said progress was slow and that it would likely stretch into a second day.
Three-term incumbent Chief Chad Smith; his challenger, longtime tribal councilman Bill John Baker; their attorneys and the tribal Supreme Court justices watched as the roughly 15,000 ballots cast for the June 25 election were counted at the American Indian tribe’s election commission headquarters in Tahlequah. Reporters were not allowed into the room, but both sides said it appeared the proceedings would continue into Sunday.
Unofficial returns the morning of June 26 showed Baker ahead by 11 votes. On June 27, the election commission certified Smith as the winner by seven votes. Baker asked for a recount, which showed him ahead by 266 votes. The total vote count was different each time.
Smith asked for a second, machine recount, but the court on Tuesday ordered only a hand recount. Witnesses during a tribal Supreme Court hearing a week ago testified that it appeared most of the problems with the vote could be traced to absentee ballots.
Smith either nominated or re-nominated the justices who heard the election case, and Baker, as a councilman, voted to confirm four of them.
Supporters of Baker and Smith waited outside the election commission offices in temperatures that approached 100 degrees while the votes were being counted inside. At the nearby tribal headquarters, supporters of Smith and his running mate, deputy chief candidate Chris Soap, held an afternoon cookout.