The Cherokee Nation on Saturday held a second election for principal tribal chief, but voters will not know who the winner is until next month. With the ballots not being counted until Oct. 8, official voter turnout figures were not available Saturday. However, outside some polling places, volunteers from both campaigns kept a running total of voters.
“We’ve counted about 400 so far,” said Tribal Council member Jodie Fishinghawk at noon Saturday, who stumped for Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker outside the Wilma P. Mankiller clinic in Stilwell. “That’s about on pace with what we saw here in the June election.”
About 15,000 people voted in the June election, including almost 900 at Stilwell. In accordance with a federal district court order, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission will not count any ballots in the race between former principal chief Chad Smith and Baker until Oct. 8.
The date comes after the court ordered the election commission to extend the deadline for registered freedmen voters to return their ballots after losing their tribal citizenship last month. Freedmen voters have until Oct. 8 to return absentee ballots or can vote at the election commission on Thursday or Oct. 6.
After the polls closed at 7 p.m. Saturday, the ballots, ballot boxes and voting machines were placed in the election commission’s vault to sit for two weeks.
Additional security from the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service will patrol the building continuously.
Despite the court order, volunteers from both campaigns toed the 300-foot line around polling places, waving signs for their candidates and handing out stickers, candy and fliers to voters in a last-ditch effort to sway their decision.
“It’s frustrating,” said Smith supporter Gayle Ross about the delayed count. “We’ve been through multiple counts and hearings in all of this. Having to wait even longer after the polls close to know who won is just frustrating.”