Freedmen vote could sway Cherokee chief election

September 19, 2011 - 5:20 PM

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A federal judge in Washington could influence the Cherokee Nation's embattled election for chief when he delves into the interworking of one of the country's largest American Indian tribes.

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy will hear arguments Tuesday about whether votes from descendants of slaves once owned by the Cherokee — known as freedmen — should count during Saturday's election.

Recounts from a flawed election in June reversed the results four times between the longtime chief and his challenger. Tribal experts believe the freedmen could vote in new leadership.

The election challenges were playing out in tribal courts until the freedmen sued, citing an 1866 treaty they say guarantees their tribal rights. The federal government has warned that the election would be illegal if freedmen aren't allowed to vote.