After almost a week of legal wrangling and vote tallies that switched back-and-forth between candidates for chief, attorneys for the Oklahoma's largest American Indian tribe confirmed Friday that a longtime councilman had defeated the three-term incumbent by nearly 270 votes.
Chief Chad Smith told a crowd after the announcement outside the Cherokee Nation Election Commission that he was disappointed because he believed at least 269 votes weren't counted during a recount that began Thursday night and gave the victory to challenger Bill John Baker.
"This recount doesn't reflect the vote of the people," Smith told the crowd.
Smith's legal team filed an application for injunctive relief Friday afternoon with the TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP)/ Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. The application asks the court to keep the Election Commission from certifying the results until the ballots can be counted again by machine.
According to the application, the vast majority of votes counted when the election results were certified on Monday were counted by machine, unlike the recount, which was done by hand.
"Subsequently, the commission conducted a recount of some, but not all of those votes," the petition read.
Smith also alleged in the petition that the commission refused to allow the candidates to have designated representatives at the nine counting stations and that it failed to utilize any lawfully enacted regulations governing recounts.
Smith said the appeals process should take only days. It's unclear what would happen if the matter was still tied up in the courts when his term ends Aug. 14.
Before Smith spoke, Baker's attorney Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the Cherokee people had spoken clearly by electing his client. He defended Thursday's recount, with each side assigning monitors to make sure it went smoothly.
"The eyes of the Cherokee Nation were on (the vote)," Hoskin said. "Bill John Baker is the chief of the Cherokee Nation."
In a statement, Baker called the application "Smith's latest attempt to hold onto power."
"It is time for Chad Smith to concede defeat, and let the Cherokee people come together and start moving forward," Baker said in the statement.
More than 15,000 votes were cast in the election that ended a bitter campaign in which Baker and Smith attacked each other on everything from job creation to use of the tribe's private plane.
If the recount holds, Baker will lead one of the nation's largest tribes, with nearly 300,000 members, and be responsible for its $600 million budget.
The tribal supreme court met to examine the recount results that showed Baker received 7,613 votes to 7,347 for Smith.
Unofficial results released Sunday showed Baker leading Smith by 11 votes, but when the election commission certified the vote on Monday, Smith led 7,609 to 7,602.
The commission didn't respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment about why the initial results changed.
On Tuesday, Baker asked the tribe's Supreme Court to order the election commission to produce copies of certified vote results for each district and for absentee ballots. Smith said he also wanted to see those documents.
The repeated switching of vote totals could be the cornerstone of Smith's appeal, said Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com, the largest public opinion pollster in the state.
"You don't want ballots that go missing," Shapard said Friday. "That simply does not happen. … Something is going on and that is not right."
The election and its aftermath have drawn comparisons to the famed recount in the 2000 presidential election in Florida involving Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
"It's one of the biggest political events in Cherokee history," Hoskin said this week. "When I talk to people, I tell them, I know you're upset, but let's be calm. Let's work the system, work the problem."