It appears that the Navajo Nation Council or rather Speaker LoRenzo Bates, after flexing his muscles, decided on Feb. 23 to respect the Feb. 20 decision of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court and have the special presidential election between presidential candidates former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and former Navajo Council Delegate Russell Begaye on April 21.
According to Bates’ Feb. 23 press release, April 21 will also include the elections for three vacant positions on the Navajo Election Board, which are for the Chinle, Eastern and Western Agencies.
On Feb. 21, Bates stated that the Supreme Court went beyond its authority when it “invalidated” the Council’s two resolutions, CD-80-14 and CD-81-14, which the Council approved on Dec. 30, 2014, to resolve election issues that involved a large number of Navajo people who felt they had been disenfranchised.
“Council members were simply acting at the overwhelming will of the Navajo people,” Bates added.
CD-80-14 nullified the 2014 Navajo Nation Primary Election for the Presidential Race and called for a second Primary Election in June 2015 for all 17 presidential candidates, including disqualified presidential candidates Chris Deschene, and a 2015 General Election for the top two presidential candidates in August 2015.
CD-81-14 pardoned the Election Board after they were all removed for being convicted of a misdemeanor that resulted when the Supreme Court found them in contempt of Court on Oct. 31, 2014, for refusing to obey its Oct. 23, 2014, order to comply with the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals disqualification of Deschene as a presidential candidate on Oct. 9, 2014, which automatically triggered an election law for the third place runner-up, which was Begaye, to be moved up.
And it was because of CD-80-14 and CD-81-14 that former presidential candidates Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne went to the Supreme Court on Jan. 12 and asked the high court to order the Council delegates that voted in favor of the two resolution and Navajo Election Administration Director Edison Wauneka why they refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s order in October and December 2014 to hold a special presidential election between Shirley and Begaye no later than Jan. 31.
Tsosie and Whitethorne also asked the court to hold Wauneka and Delegates Mel R. Begay; Lorenzo Curley; Jonathan Hale; Leonard Haskie; Walter Phelps; Danny Simpson; Roscoe Smith; Duane Tsinigine; Roland Tso; Leonard Tsosie, and Edmund Yazzie in contempt of court, which the Supreme Court denied “(i)n the interests of finality.”
Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who sponsored the two resolutions, stated in a Feb. 20 press release, that the Supreme Court’s “decision was expected to be an unfair decision and it turned out to be that. It is up to the Council and the president to put this matter back in harmony with the support of the Navajo People.”
Tsosie also accused the Supreme Court of starting “this election mess by creating a belated filing challenge” and “disregarding the choice of the Navajo people in the primary election.”
But he stated the court blames the Legislative Branch because it created unnecessary delays with its “legislative maneuvering” that were based on the “self-interested actions” of the Council and Election Board.
Tsosie added that his sponsorship of the two resolutions was simply to address the “disenfranchisement” of Navajo voters by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, in its Feb. 20 decision, addressed the disenfranchisement logic of Tsosie and the Council: “The obvious flaw in the Council’s reasoning is that re-doing the 2014 Presidential and Vice-Presidential primary election in and of itself “disenfranchises” voters.. In other words, the 52,047 votes cast in the August 26, 2014 primary election would be thrown out for no other reason than the will of the Council.”
I have repeatedly asked Bates and Tsosie for the petitions and chapters resolutions supporting the disenfranchised voters and I have never received them.
And when I specifically asked Tsosie on Dec. 29, 2014, for a resolution from Ojo Encino Chapter, after he said that Ojo Encino had asked him to sponsor legislation for a new Primary Election for the presidential race only, he corrected himself and said that there was no Ojo Encino Chapter resolution.
And every time I have mentioned to Bates and Tsosie that the disenfranchised voters voted for Deschene and so isn’t the issue really about putting Deschene, a disqualified presidential candidate, back on the ballot, they have profusely denied that Council resolutions to water down the Navajo language fluency requirement for presidential candidates, to nullify the 21014 Primary Election for presidential race and hold a second Primary Election for all 17 presidential candidates again, and to allow write-in candidates on the ballot; favor one individual, Deschene.
Tsosie even claimed that some of the disenfranchised voters didn’t vote for Deschene and so it’s not about Deschene.
But private attorney Justin Jones, who represented Whitethorne, strongly disagreed.
Jones stated on Feb. 21, “The court rightfully put the cause of our election chaos squarely on the shoulders of Deschene and the Council.”
He emphasized that if it wasn’t for Deschene’s lies about his ability to fluently speak his own Navajo language, and the Council’s power hunger, which was not for the Navajo people’s benefit but for the Council’s selfish reasons, to put an unqualified candidate back on the ballot, the nation wouldn’t have been “dragged through this absurdity.”
“Navajo Nation law has once more prevailed,” Jones stated. “Throughout our history, the ma’ii (Coyote) attempted to manipulate, cheat, or transpose established law for his self-interest reasons. The ma’ii never prevailed. The established law always prevailed. Even Leonard Tsosie, Chris Dechene are not above the law.
“The ruling clearly and legally stated that the nation is ready to vote and let’s have a legitimate election with legitimate candidates,” he added.
And as of Feb. 23, the Navajo Election Administration website listed the Election Board members as Tom M. White Jr. (Fort Defiance Agency); Lenora Fulton (Fort Defiance Agency); Jonathan Tso (Shiprock Agency); Wallace Charley (Shiprock Agency); Ruth Watson (Western Navajo Agency); Harry D. Brown Sr. (Western Navajo Agency); Norman L. Bega (Chinle Agency); Vacant (Chinle Agency); Frannie George (Eastern Navajo Agency), and Michael Coan (Eastern Navajo Agency).
But during the Navajo Nation Inauguration Ceremonies on Jan. 13, four individuals were sworn in as Navajo Board of Election Supervisors. The were Bertha Aguirre (Fort Defiance Agency); Leslie Chavez (Eastern Navajo Agency); Ruth Gilmore (Western Navajo Agency), and Watona Kellywod (Northern Navajo Agency).
The Supreme Court, in its Feb. 20 decision, pointed out to the Council that in its CD-81-15 resolution, they purported to reinstate the Election Board members that were found in contempt of court and removed even though four new board members were inaugurated.
On Feb. 20, the court also ordered Wauneka to hold elections for the six vacancies on the election board. But Wauneka, in the Feb. 23 press release from Bates, stated that there are three vacancies.
He added that his office was unable to move forward with the election prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Feb. 20.
Wauneka stated that the election administration issued a notice on Feb. 23 to inform the public of filing extensions for three of the vacant NBOES positions for the Chinle Agency, Eastern Agency, and the Western Agency.
He explained that the filing period for the three positions closes at 5 p.m. on March 9 and candidate applications may be filed at the election administration agency sub-offices.
The election timeline are:
March 23: Voter registration closes/absentee ballots become available upon request
April 6: mailed absentee ballot applications must be physically in NEA offices
April 17: Last day for walk-in absentee voting
April 21: Election day
May 1: Grievance filing deadline
May 4: Certification of election results
May 12: Oath of Office for the Office of the President and Vice President
Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon, who represents the communities of Black Mesa, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Pinon, and Whippoorwill is sponsoring legislation 0010-15 for the Council to fund the Navajo Election Administration to conduct the elections.
Witherspoon’s legislation, which the Naabik’iyati Committee supported with a vote of 14 in favor, 3 opposed on Feb. 19, goes before the Council during a special session on March 13.