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Emergency legislation to nullify 2014 Navajo Primary Election for presidential race on Navajo Council Dec. 23 agenda
December 23, 2014 Professional Journal

An updated PROPOSED AGENDA for the Navajo Nation Council’s special session tomorrow, Dec. 23, 2014, includes Legislation 0341-14, which is titled as an “Emergency” legislation “to address a matter of voter disenfranchisement and providing for a special run-off election and special General Election for the Office of the President.”

And since Legislation 0341-14 was legally reviewed and approved to meet the standard of an emergency legislation, it is not required to be electronically posted on the Navajo Nation Council website for a five-day public comment period and go before standing committees, especially the Naabik’iyati Committee.

Navajo Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie announced during the Naabik’iyati Committee today that he planned to sponsor emergency legislation to the Council to nullify the Navajo Nation Primary Election for the presidential race so that there could be a “special run-off election and special General Election for the Office of the President”, which would also address “voter disenfranchisement.

Tsosie brought up his emergency voter disenfranchisement bill during Navajo Election Administration Director Edison Wauneka’s report to the the Naabik’iyati Committee on the 2014 Elections, which included a request for about $317,000 to hold the special presidential election between former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye. Wauneka also informed the committee that he filed a motion with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that would allow him to have the special presidential election in January 2015 instead of Dec. 23, 2014, which was the date he set because the Supreme Court ordered him to hold the special presidential election within 60 days of Oct. 31, 2014. Oct. 31, 2014, was when the Supreme Court found the Navajo Nation Election Board in contempt of its order for the Election Office to obey the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals decision to disqualify presidential candidate Chris Dechenie, who took second place in the tribal primaries in August 2014.

Under Navajo law, contempt is a misdemeanor and if any elected official or candidate for an elected official is guilty of a misdemeanor, the misdemeanor automatically triggers election law that mandates that the elected official be immediately removed from office and prohibited from running for an elected office for five years or more.

Tsosie also told the Naabik’iyati Committee that the Election Board that the Supreme Court’s order to the Election Office to comply with the OHA’s decision regarding Dechene didn’t include the Election Board and so how could the Election Board be in contempt.

When the OHA disqualified Deschene for lying on his affidavit about speaking the Navajo language fluently, that ruling also automatically triggered another election law that mandated that as soon as a candidate for an election position is disqualified, the Election Office is mandated to move the third place winner up, which in this case was Russell Begaye.

But during several Election Board meetings, the Board made it very clear to Wauneka and his staff that they answered to the Board and that the Board did not agree with the OHA decision and the Supreme Court decision to return the election complaint against Deschene to the OHA to make a decision. The OHA had initially dismissed the election complaint because it was filed past the ten day deadline to file for a presidential candidate to file a grievance against another presidential candidate.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the election complaint against Dechene was not about the Election Office certifying Deschene as a qualified presidential candidate for the primaries. The justices stated that the election complaint was about Deschene lying about speaking the Navajo language fluently, which was one of the qualifications for a presidential candidate.

The Supreme Court, in its contempt ruling, noted that the Election Board, as the supervisor of the Wauneka and the election staff, violated their oath to uphold the election laws when they obstructed the Election Office from complying with election law that mandates that the third place winner be moved up when a candidate is disqualified.

It was interesting to hear Wauneka inform the Naabik’iati Committee that the Supreme Court made a mistake when it ordered him to hold a special presidential election within 60 days of their Oct. 31 decision, especially since an election complaint was filed against Russell Begaye on Oct. 31 and whenever an election complaint is filed against a candidate that election complaint must be fully resolved before an election can be held. Wauneka also noted that decisions of an election complaint can be appealed and so time must be set aside for the appeal process. He added that time must also be set aside for early voting and absentee voting as the election complaint goes through the process.

I attended the Election Board meetings after the two election complaints regarding Deschene lying about speaking the Navajo language fluently were filed and I never heard Wauneka or the Election Board acknowledge that an election complaint against a candidate must be fully resolved before that candidate is placed on the election ballot. What I did hear was Legislative attorney Ron Haven advising the Election Board in late September, in front of Wauneka, to consider having a special presidential election because the time involved in resolving the election complaints against Deschene would take go past the deadline for the printer to print the election ballots for the Nov. 4 General Election early voting and absentee voting.

And Delegate Lorenzo Curley, who is sponsoring Legislation 0289-14, which would remove the Navajo language fluency requirement for all elected positions, is supporting the drafting of legislation for the Council to reinstate the Election Board because the Supreme Court ruling was wrong.

Legislation 0289-14 is on tomorrow’s special Council session agenda.

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