The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court interrupted its third day of hearing Principal Chief Chad Smith’s challenge to the June 25 election results to do a little counting of its own.
Shortly after Chief-elect Bill John Baker’s team completed its direct examination of Terry Rainey, president of Automated Election Services, the court ordered an examination of the absentee ballots and the corresponding mailing envelopes.
Rainey told the court that comparison would be the best way to establish a base line to determine whether Smith’s allegations of “vanishing votes” are credible.
The envelope count, which according to observers concluded shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday, revealed that 6,166 envelopes were received by the election commission. A counting of the ballots was under way at press time.
Rainey’s comment came in response to the Baker camp’s inquiry about whether there was any evidence that would show the June 30 recount of the ballots cast in the principal chief contest was flawed.
Unofficial returns posted June 26 initially gave Baker an 11-vote lead, but the tribe’s election commission declared incumbent Chief Chad Smith the winner the next day by seven votes. A hand recount June 30 showed Baker beat Smith by 266 votes, 7,613-7,347, but with 251 fewer ballots.
Smith contends the difference in the totals for the initial results and the recount can be traced to the fact that 273 fewer absentee ballots were recorded during the recount. Baker contends those ballots were counted twice election night.
At least one election commissioner said a comparison of the number of envelopes and absentee ballots would help determine whether Smith’s theory of “vanishing votes” is sound.
“I would count the number of ballots and the number of envelopes,” Election Commissioner Martha Calico said in response the court’s inquiry about how to resolve the discrepancy.
The count of those items began about 4 p.m. Sunday. It was conducted behind closed doors at the commission’s offices with only the parties, their lawyers, the justices and election commission officials present. Media representatives were barred from the out-of-court proceedings.