The Edmond Sun

October 18, 2011

Incumbent moves to stop inauguration of newly elected Cherokee chief

Teddye Snell
CNHI News Service

TAHLEQUAH — In a petition filed Monday, Chad Smith, incumbent in the recent Cherokee Nation special election for principal chief, challenged the results and requested injunctive relief from CN Supreme Court.

Smith is asking the court for a virtual laundry list of items, including an order declaring the special election results essentially null and void, and an injunction prohibiting Principal Chief-elect Bill John Baker from being sworn in until a resolution is delivered in federal court on the Freedmen citizenship issue.

Baker was declared the official winner last Wednesday, when CN Election Commission officials certified special election results. Baker received 10,703 votes, compared to 9,128 for Smith.

Freedmen who voted in the regular June 24 election were also permitted to vote in the special election, under an agreement reached by Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden and CN Attorney General Diane Hammons and Freedmen descendants.

On Aug. 22, the tribe’s Supreme Court rescinded citizenship for Freedmen descendants, citing a March 3, 2007, constitutional amendment requiring Cherokee citizens have an ancestor traceable to the Dawes Rolls.

On Sept. 2, individual Freedmen desendants filed a motion in federal court in Washington, D.C., asking that citizenship rights be restored and to halt federal funding to the tribe until rights were restored. On Sept. 21, Crittenden and Hammons entered into the agreement with Freedmen in lieu of allowing the federal case to proceed.

As a result of the pact, additional voting days between Sept. 24 and Oct. 8 were allowed for not only Freedmen, but all registered Cherokee voters.

At a Sept. 27 CN Election Commission meeting, Smith asked that all Cherokee citizens be informed of the additional voting days via overnight mail, as had been done with the Freedmen, as well as opening a single polling precinct in each of the tribe’s five districts for the additional voting days. The election commission pointed out it would be neither financially nor logistically possible to provide in-person voting in each of the five districts.

Now, Smith contends any vote cast after Sept. 24 should be rendered invalid, as it violates Cherokee Nation law.

He also alleges neither Crittenden nor Hammons had the authority to enter into the agreement with the Freedmen, and as such, any votes cast and counted due to the order were invalid.

“The agreed-upon orders which allowed citizenship and voting rights to the Freedmen descendants violated the Cherokee Nation Constitution’s citizenship provisions as interpreted by the court in August,” wrote Smith. “Further, to the extent that the orders infringed on the fundamental rights of all Cherokees to cast in-person ballots on additional election days, the orders contained unconstitutional provisions.”

According to a report by the Associated Press, even if votes from all eligible Freedmen are pulled from the special election tallies, Baker would still beat Smith by more than 300 votes. Approximately 1,200 of the 2,800 Freedmen were eligible to vote in the special election. It is unknown how many of the 1,200 cast ballots.