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Latest petition asks district court to stop Navajo Nation special election

FARMINGTON — Four former members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors are asking the Window Rock District Court to suspend the April 21 special election for the tribe’s next president.

A hearing on the matter took place at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Window Rock, Ariz., according to court documents. Judicial branch spokeswoman Karen Francis said Tuesday evening that no decision was issued.

The petition to suspend the special election, which would determine whether Joe Shirley Jr. or Russell Begaye will serve as president, was filed on Monday by former election board members Norman L. Begay, Harry D. Brown Sr., Wallace Charley and Ruth H. Watson.

They, along with five additional election board members, were removed from the election board by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court in October after refusing to comply with an earlier court order to remove the name of disqualified presidential candidate Chris Deschene from the ballot.

Deschene was disqualified by default judgment after he refused to undergo testing to determine his ability to speak the Navajo language fluently, which is a requirement for the presidency.

The former election board members also sought a temporary restraining order against the election administration. District Court Judge Carol Perry denied that on Tuesday.

As for the petition to have the special election suspended, the group alleges the election administration is violating tribal law by proceeding to conduct the election before allowing voters to weigh in on a referendum that could amend the Navajo and English language provision for the president and vice president.

If Navajo law is not followed, the petitioners state in court documents, there would be “injury, loss or damage in substantial in nature.”

On March 13, the Navajo Nation Council approved conducting a referendum election before the special election and providing $317,891 in supplemental funding to the election administration to pay for the referendum election.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the resolution into law on March 16.

Both actions were challenged, and the Supreme Court ordered on March 20 that the election administration use its operating budget to fund the special election and for the acting controller to replenish the funds with money from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance.

The high court’s ruling was challenged by Shelly and the council, who both stated tribal law must be followed to provide such financial requests.

Both challenges were denied by the Supreme Court on Monday.

In their petition to stop the special election, former election board members claim if the acting controller and the election administration circumvent tribal law, it would not be in the best interest of voters.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.

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