In a close election that ran overnight, the Cherokee Nation elected a new principal chief today, with final results posted on the tribe's website showing longtime councilman Bill John Baker defeating three-term incumbent Chad Smith by 11 votes. More than 15,000 votes were cast, and the margin between the men had been fewer than 30 since late yesterday. Smith vowed a ballot review: "When you have 11 votes out of 15,000, you want to ensure that the count is affirmed," he said.
The campaign between the two men was often contentious, and they combined to spend nearly a half-million dollars as they sought the chief's job. Smith emphasized the tribe's economic success during his tenure, something Baker disputed. Baker criticized Smith for using a tribal airplane for travel and called for the tribe to spend more of its gaming revenues on health care. Chris Soap, the stepson of the late, legendary Cherokee chief Wilma Mankiller, will be the tribe's next deputy chief.