2-way race for Cherokee chief too close to call

By the Associated Press | June 26, 2011 | 1:30 AM EDT

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — The race to decide who will lead Oklahoma's largest American Indian tribe for the next four years remains too close to call.

In results issued by the Cherokee Nation election commission late Saturday, three-term incumbent Chad Smith commanded a 9-vote lead over challenger Bill John Baker, a longtime tribal councilman and Tahlequah businessman. More than 15,000 tribal members voted in the election.

Election officials now are looking at so-called "challenge" ballots, which are similar to provisional ballots, before determining the election winner. It's not known how long that might take.

The Cherokee Nation is Oklahoma's largest American Indian tribe and one of the nation's biggest, with a membership approaching 300,000 people. The Tahlequah-based tribe has a 14-county jurisdiction in eastern Oklahoma.