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Updated: Eastern Band of Cherokee Primary Election unofficial results

Election signs across the Qualla Boundary show support for primary candidate. Photo taken in May 2023.
Lilly Knoepp/ BPR News
Election signs across the Qualla Boundary show support for primary candidate. Photo taken in May 2023.

The unofficial results of the primary election for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal Council and Principal Chief races have been released.

Principal Chief candidate Michell Hicks, who served as chief from 2003 to 2015, received the most votes with 1,075 or 41.7 percent of the votes. Current Principal Chief Richard Sneed received the second most votes with 548 just ahead of Robert Saunooke with 441. The top two vote getters, Hicks and Sneed, will advance to the general election in September.

Check out all of the results in the Cherokee One Feather.

Eastern Band of Cherokee members across the Qualla Boundary will head to the polls on June 1 to vote in the primary election. All 12 seats of tribal council, vice chief and the principal chief positions are up for election.

BPR spoke with the Smoky Mountain News reporter Holly Kays about the candidates in all of the races.

Principal Chief 

There are six candidates vying for the spot the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election on September 7th. The candidates are incumbent Chief Richard Sneed, former chief Michell Hicks, Robert Saunooke, “Tunney” Crowe, Gary Ledford and Lori Taylor.

Read all of their bios here.

Vice Chief 

There are only two candidates for vice chief so both will automatically advance to the general election. The candidates are current Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley and current Big Cove representative Teresa McCoy.

Read their bios here.

Tribal Council 

While all 12 seats are up for election, the primary will narrow each race to four candidates. In the Big Cove and Snowbird/Cherokee County communities, there are four or fewer candidates so those races will automatically advance to the general election.

For the primary, there are five candidates Yellowhill , six candidates for Painttown, six candidates for Wolftown, five candidates for Birdtown.

Updated: Here are the general election candidates for Yellowhill, Wolftown, Painttown, Birdtown, Big Cove and Snowbird/Cherokee County.

Recent special elections 

Special elections are extremely uncommon but there have been three in a three-month period starting in December 2022. All three representatives who won during the special elections must now run to retain their seats.

Paintown residents chose a new representative following the death of longtime tribal council member Tommye Saunooke in October 2022. Two separate Wolftown representatives, Bill Taylor and Bo Crowe, stepped down due to criminal charges. Taylor pleaded guilty to charges of reckless endangerment and reckless driving. Two charges of domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon were dropped, according to the Cherokee One Feather.

Assault charges against Crowe are still pending, and he has pleaded not guilty to tribal court. Crowe is running for re-election to his former seat.

Current representatives Andrew Oocumma won the December special election and Mike Parker won the seat in the March 2023 special election. Both are running for re-election.

Other races

School board candidates are on the ballot based on their townships. Tribal council is still debating which of a number of proposed referenda will be on the general election ballot. Tribal council will consider referendums to legalize small amounts of cannabis for adults over the age of 21 and to sell mixed liquor drinks on the Boundary at Tribal Council meeting on Thursday, June 1.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.