The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court’s order for a new election gives the candidates for principal chief a second chance to declare a definitive win. It also gives the tribe’s embattled election commission a chance to restore faith in the system.
The contest between Principal Chief Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker became a back-and-forth tug-of-war during the days immediately following the June 25 general election.
After both candidates were declared winners — then losers — allegations of fraud and deception surfaced. The integrity of the tribe’s election process suffered, and at least one commissioner targeted for criticism became a casualty of the bitter contest.
Political sparring became especially heated after the general election when Baker was named the unofficial winner by 11 votes June 26 and the certified results posted the next day named him the loser by seven.
A manual recount conducted June 30 gave the lead back to Baker, but a 251-vote discrepancy in the number of ballots tallied fueled speculation about wrongdoing.
“One of the things I believe has been going on all along is there really hasn’t been independent oversight on Cherokee Nation elections,” said Lynn Adair, a Baker supporter from Tahlequah. “People don’t trust the election commission right now.”
Gayle Ross, discussing what she described as “meltdown,” said the election commission needs to be more transparent. She said problems for the commission began before the June 25 election.
Ross, who spoke to scores of voters on the telephone while campaigning for Smith, said she fielded numerous complaints from tribal members whose voter registration applications never were processed. Redistricting, Ross said, also caused confusion for other voters unsure about where to cast ballots.
“It is all those little housekeeping things I would hope they (election commissioners) would be more transparent with,” Ross said. “And it shouldn’t have taken a court order for them to disclose why the unofficial numbers changed before the results were certified, especially when you have a candidate who is willing to holler fraud and raise suspicions about the process.”