TAHLEQUAH, OKLA. The leadership of the nation's second largest Indian tribe remained contested Friday after more testimony about alleged irregularities in the May 24 election.
A witness told the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal, the tribe's highest court, on Thursday that one ballot box arrived from a precinct unsealed.
Under tribal law, the boxes holding ballots must be sealed.
The justices ultimately will decide if the alleged irregularities are enough to warrant a new election. After three days of testimony, the court is scheduled to resume a hearing at 1 p.m. Monday.
Incumbent Chief Chad Smith won the election with 52 percent of the vote, trailed by former Chief Joe Byrd who had 39 percent.
Byrd and the other chief candidates, Robin Mayes and L.S. Fields, along with Deputy Chief Hastings Shade and three councilors, challenged the election results.
Byrd wants a new election or at least to be included in a July 26 runoff with Smith.
An official with New Mexico-based Automated Election Services acknowledged the ballot box problem in a conference call with justices and attorneys, said Richard Toon, attorney for those who appealed the election.
The justices also ordered the tribe's election commission to examine more than 160 ballots, 135 of which had not been counted because the envelopes did not show the required notary seal.
The notary seals on other ballots that were counted were barely visible, making it hard to tell if the seal was from the same state as the ballot, justices said.
After the examination, justices allowed at least 30 of the questioned ballots, bolstering Smith's total by 21 votes and Byrd's by seven.
Other testimony focused on voter registration lists, the inclusion of voters who did not show IDs and United Keetoowah Band members who had relinquished Cherokee membership being allowed to vote.
Many of the more than 100 Cherokees attending the hearings said testimony from election commissioners and employees showed they were not familiar with election law and policies.
"This is the sloppiest election we've ever had," said Councilor Barbara Starr-Scott, who chose not to run for re-election.
Hattie Danner, 76, of Tahlequah, said she didn't think the evidence was enough to warrant a new election.
But, she added, "I've been against Joe Byrd since day one."