2011 chief’s race tumultuous, 2015 election decided quickly
Former Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker took the oath of office the evening of Oct. 19, 2011, to officially become the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Standing with him was his wife Sherry. Supreme Court Justice James G. Wilcoxen administered the oath of office. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Then-Principal Chief Chad Smith holds a June 27, 2011, press conference. The Election Commission released results after the conference showing Smith winning the election over Bill John Baker. Baker won the chief’s race after another election was held. ARCHIVE
A Recount Certification tally sheet hangs on the door of the Election Ser- vices Office on June 30, 2011, after a recount in the principal chief’s race was conducted. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The 2011 principal chief’s race showed that every vote counts and having election checks in place is important. That year, the principal chief was not sworn in until October as votes were recounted and a court hearing was held to try to decide the disputed race.
On June 25, 2011, the day of the election, only eight votes separated then-Principal Chief Chad Smith from Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker.
In unofficial results at 7 p.m., Baker led the race by approximately 600 votes, but as the night passed and absentee ballots were counted, Smith, who had served as principal chief for 12 years, closed that gap.
About 9:30 p.m., Baker was unofficially leading Smith by 47 votes and told his supporters the Election Commission was experiencing a “glitch” in counting votes. About one hour later he addressed his supporters and told them he was losing by 22 votes.
The EC said about 250 challenged ballots needed to be studied and counted as of late Saturday night, pushing the results in to Sunday. As of late Saturday night, Smith had 7,572 votes to Baker’s 7,564.
The next morning, the EC showed Baker had won by 11 votes. However, when the EC certified the results the next day, Smith was named the winner by seven votes. On June 28, Baker filed for emergency injunctive relief with the tribe’s Supreme Court to force the EC to provide answers and documentation as to why the unofficial results in the race changed.
On June 29, the EC motioned to dismiss Baker’s request. But on June 30, the Supreme Court ordered the EC to recount the ballots by hand that afternoon. After the EC completed at 9:30 p.m., it showed Baker having 7,613 votes and Smith having 7,347 votes, a margin of 266 votes. The next day Smith petitioned for a recount using machines, and on July 5, he asked the court to vacate the certified June 30 recount.
On July 7, Baker motioned to intervene in Smith’s appeal, and the next day the court heard testimony regarding the recount. Election commissioners testified the recount procedures were correct but the results were wrong.
On July 10, the court heard testimony that Automated Election Services President Terry Rainey entered the EC vault on June 27 and removed envelopes. One envelope contained a tally sheet for the race. He testified he “annotated” the tally sheet, changing a number from 37 to 57 to properly reflect the tallied count. Baker’s attorney argued Rainey’s annotation changed the race and allowed Smith to win the race with 7,609 votes to Baker’s 7,602 votes. The previous totals were 7,600 to 7,589 in Baker’s favor.
On July 12, the court ordered a recount of all ballots for July 16 with the court supervising the count and the Baker and Smith parties observing. The recount concluded on July 17, and the next day the court ordered the hearing to reconvene on July 19. At the hearing, the court released the evidentiary count numbers: 7,627 for Smith and 7,622 for Baker, including challenged ballots.
On July 21, the court invalidated all results, citing that a winner couldn’t be determined with “mathematical certainty.”
On July 28, Smith set Sept. 24, as the special election date for the principal chief’s race. Newly elected Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden assumed the principal chief’s position on Aug. 14 until a new principal chief could be sworn in after the special election. After the special election, results showed Baker received 10,703 votes to Smith’s 9,128 votes. Baker was sworn in on the back steps of the CN Capitol in downtown the evening of Oct. 19, and an inauguration was held Nov. 6 at Sequoyah High School.
The two men faced off again for principal chief in the June 27, 2015, general election, but this time Baker received 52.66 percent of the vote or 9,786 votes, while Smith got 28.06 percent of the vote or 5,124 votes. State Representative Will Fourkiller finished third with 10.49 percent or 1,950 votes, and the former director the of the tribe’s Community Services Department, Charlie Soap, finished last with 8.79 percent of the vote or 1,633 votes.
Having served two consecutive terms, Baker is terming out of office and will leave in August after a new principal chief is sworn in on Aug. 14.