- Associated Press
Thursday, July 21, 2011

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the results of a disputed election to determine the chief of Oklahoma’s largest Indian 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, Okla., although the five-justice court did not set a date. At stake is the leadership of 300,000 Cherokees, one of the largest tribes in the nation. 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. Mr. 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 twice was declared winner, but so was his opponent, incumbent Principal Chief Chad Smith. The official results of the most recent recount put Mr. 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.

In closing statements before the court late Tuesday, Mr. Baker’s legal team suggested that up to 26 ballots out of more than 15,000 cast had been spoiled because they were improperly notarized, filled out in pencil instead of pen or had erasure marks that cast doubt over a voter’s true intent.

Tim Baker, Mr. Baker’s lawyer, argued that if those ballots were tossed out, there was no mathematical certainty that the count was true.

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