Cherokee Nation council members expressed hope Tuesday that the controversy swirling around the disputed election for the principal chief’s office can be resolved amicably. The election and its aftermath are drawing comparisons to the famed recount in the 2000 presidential election in Florida involving Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
Longtime tribal councilman and challenger Bill John Baker, who trailed three-term incumbent Chad Smith by seven votes in the latest count from Saturday’s election, didn’t file a formal recount request Tuesday but is expected to do so by Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
The Cherokee Nation is Oklahoma’s largest American Indian tribe and one of the nation’s biggest, with membership approaching 300,000 members.
“It’s one of the biggest political events in Cherokee history,” said tribal councilman Chuck Hoskin Jr. of Vinita, who supported Baker. “… When I talk to people, I tell them, I know you’re upset, but let’s be calm. Let’s work the system, work the problem.”
Councilwoman Cara Cowan Watts of Claremore, a Smith supporter, echoed those sentiments.
“Regardless of the election’s outcome, our Nation is composed of strong, intelligent and capable individuals,” she said. “I believe we will resolve the election amicably as we are a fully functioning democratic government.”
Unofficial final returns posted Sunday morning on the tribal website had Baker beating Smith by 11 votes. But Monday afternoon, the tribal election commission certified Smith as the winner by a seven-vote margin out of more than 15,000 cast.
The commission hasn’t commented on why the vote count changed, other than a statement issued Monday that said, “Our early tabulation was unofficial; these are the official certified election results.”