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Voter interviews reflect close race

Interviews with Cherokee voters exiting the polling booths last week revealed just how divided the tribe is over who will be their next chief.

The race was decided by just 30 votes — representing less than 1 percent of the total 3,678 votes cast. The 60 percent turnout of eligible voters rivaled that of the country during heated presidential contests.

The current chief Michell Hicks garnered a narrow win over challenger Patrick Lambert that will likely be contested (see related article). Those voting for Hicks said they thought he has done a good job for the past four years.

“I think the chief we have now is doing a good job,” said Jackie Dugan. “I think we are headed in the right direction.” Dugan cited Hick’s many economic development initiatives over the past four years aimed at diversifying Cherokee’s economy, one of Hick’s campaign platforms.

Renee Long-Cole said Hicks has been a good public face for the tribe, especially in relations to the outside world.

“He’s a good leader. He speaks well and presents himself well,” Long-Cole said.

By contrast, those who voted for Lambert said that they were dissatisfied with the current administration.

“I don’t like what’s going on,” said Vicki Owle.

“I just wanted a new chief in there,” said Henry Queen Littlejohn of Paintown.

Several said Lambert would be more responsive to average people, investing in social programs on the Reservation rather than public image and economic development.

“I’m glad Michell has pursued economic development, but don’t forget about the social issues and social programs we need for our people,” said Tina Saunooke. That was one of Lambert’s campaign platforms, reflected by his slogan “Leadership for the Common Good.”

Hicks won in only three of the eight precincts. However, his win in one precinct — namely Cherokee County — was by nearly 200 votes, making up for his losses in the other precincts.

Cherokee County is home to a small pocket of tribal land not connected to the main reservation. Hicks walked away with a whopping 87 percent of the vote in Cherokee County. Cherokee County is known for a population of Cherokee that are more integrated into the white world and look more white than they do Cherokee. Cherokee County also has the largest influx of off-reservation voters, with dozens arriving by the carload from neighboring states. More than half the voters who cast ballots in the Cherokee County precinct don’t live on tribal land.

Meanwhile, Hicks fared the worst in Snowbird, garnering only 30 percent of the vote there. Snowbird is the opposite of Cherokee County. It is known for its population of more traditional Cherokee with a stronger Cherokee lineage.

Tribal members who live off the Reservation can vote in tribal elections if they are willing to make the trek back to Cherokee to do so. Tribal members can vote through the mail only if they meet certain criteria, such as being in the military, away at college or in a retirement home.

Molly Craven, who lives in Franklin, drove to Cherokee to vote. Craven said she voted for Hicks because the tribe helped pay for her education at Southwestern Community College.

Meanwhile, a vanload of four people from West Virginia voted for Lambert on the advice of family who does live in Cherokee and based on mailers by the candidates.

“We don’t live here, so we can only go by the literature they send us,” said Lisa Davis of West Virginia.

The election for Cherokee chief is non-partisan. According to state voter registration records, Hicks is a Republican and Lambert is a Democrat.