DEVELOPING: Citizens elect Baker as principal chief
Principal chief candidate Bill John Baker speaks while standing by his mother Isabel Baker during a June 25 election night watch party at the Tahlequah Round Up Club. Unofficial results posted June 26 by the Cherokee Nation Election Commission show Baker defeating three-term incumbent Chad Smith in the principal chief race. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation has elected longtime Tribal Council member Bill John Baker as its new principal chief.
The unofficial results released by the Cherokee Nation Election Commission on June 26 show Baker defeating three-term incumbent Chad Smith by 11 votes. As of last count, Baker had 7,600 votes to Smith's 7,589. The CNEC is expected to release the official results later Sunday or Monday.
"I’m humbled and honored to be the new Chief of the Cherokee Nation," Baker said in a statement. "I want to thank everyone who supported me. Your prayers, hard work and dedication made the difference. I think it's fair to say that every vote counted. We've come far, but we have far to go."
As of late June 25, only eight votes separated Smith from his challenger Baker. However, tribal election officials spent the night behind closed doors, scrutinizing so-called "challenge" ballots, which are similar to provisional ballots, before determining the winner.
More than 15,000 votes were cast, and the margin between the men had been fewer than 30 since late Saturday.
The Cherokee Nation is Oklahoma's largest American Indian tribe and one of the nation's biggest, with a membership approaching 300,000 people. The Tahlequah-based tribe has a 14-county jurisdiction in eastern Oklahoma.
Of the four candidates vying for deputy chief, Tribal Councilor Chris Soap was the top vote getter unofficially with 7,010 votes. Tribal Councilor S. Joe Crittenden finished unofficially with 5,488 votes, which will likely force the two into the July 23 runoff election.
Soap was Smith's running mate, while Baker opted not to ally himself with any of the four deputy chief candidates, saying he would try to work with whoever won the election.
"To all my fellow Cherokees who supported Chief Smith, I ask that you give me a second look and work with me to take our Nation from good to great," Baker said. "I need the energy, thoughts and prayers of every Cherokee to make our Nation as strong as it can possibly be."Click here to view the unofficial election results.Keep checking cherokeephoenix.org for more on this story.