The Cherokee Nation re-elected Principal Chief Bill John Baker on Sunday, according to preliminary results, calming concerns that a four-candidate field would result in another tumultuous election to lead one of the largest American Indian tribes.
The tribal election commission released the unofficial results early Sunday and later began processing about 700 contested ballots at the tribal capital of Tahlequah, about 75 miles east of Tulsa. If the results hold, Baker will have won a second term at the helm of the tribe, with about 320,000 citizens and 9,000 employees. He will control a budget nearing $1 billion and oversee the tribe's lucrative casino and hotel businesses as well as managing the country's largest tribal health care system.
Baker said the uncounted votes aren't enough to change the outcome and fully expects to avoid the hostilities and recounts that marred the 2011 election.
"We believe it will stand," Baker told the Associated Press on Sunday. "I don't see any other plan other than to go forward and continue progress."
Baker had about 53 percent of the vote against three challengers, placing him above the 50 percent threshold needed to win the election outright. The results show he beat former Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, and Charlie Soap, the widower of late Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller.
Smith led the tribe for a dozen years before squaring off twice with Baker in 2011, losing the race that dragged into the fall after a series of recounts. The latest contest was an extension of sorts of that election, but Smith said he likely won't run again if the vote holds.
"I thank the Cherokee people for the opportunity to run and to share with them our vision," Smith said.
An election administrator said the office was working to count ballots Sunday and commissioners would meet Monday morning to certify the vote count.
Still, Baker said he is ready to get back to work on his populist platform: improving health care, adding more families to the tribal payroll and building homes for their own people.
"We're looking forward to four more years of growth and prosperity and continuation of the good things God has allowed us to be able to accomplish," Baker said.
Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Allen_Reed