The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the results of a disputed election to determine the chief of Oklahoma’s largest Native American tribe following weeks of legal wrangling and multiple vote tallies that each came out with a different number.
The court’s ruling means a new election will be held in Tahlequah, although a date was not set by the five-justice court. At stake is the leadership of 300,000 Cherokees, one of the largest tribes in the U.S. Uncertainty about the accuracy of the results of the June 25 election and repeated flip-flopping in terms of the declared winner has eroded confidence among Cherokee voters.
In its two-page final order, the court ruled that it was impossible to determine the winner of the election, which had drawn comparisons to the recount in the 2000 presidential election in Florida involving Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Bush ultimately won Florida and its electoral votes by fewer than 200 votes out of 6 million cast.
In the Cherokee election, tribal councilman Bill John Baker has twice been declared winner, but so has his opponent, incumbent Principal Chief Chad Smith. The official results of the most recent recount put Smith ahead by four votes Tuesday, but that’s one fewer than in the unofficial results announced Sunday.
The principal chief, similar to a U.S. president, administers a $600 million annual tribal budget, has veto power and sets the tribe’s national agenda, which is important given that many members live outside Oklahoma.