By Marley Shebala
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. –
A Navajo Nation election complaint was filed against Navajo Nation Presidential candidate Chris Deschene, the Navajo Nation Election Office and the Navajo Nation Ethics and Rules Office by four Navajo voters on Sept. 5 for alleged violation of the tribal election law regarding presidential qualifications involving candidates speaking fluent Navajo.
That’s according to a Sept. 9 press release, which stated that the complaint was filed by Adella Begaye of Wheatfields, Ariz.; Percy Deal of Big Mountain, Ariz.; Sarah White of Sanostee, N.M., and Elsa Johnson of Pinon, Ariz., with the tribal Office of Hearings and Appeals.
Begaye, Deal, White and Johnson cited tribal law that mandates the tribal election administration to disqualify candidates who do not meet the qualifications for office.
“It became blantantly clear through the numerous public statements made by Chris Deschene regarding his inability to speak and communicate in fluent Navajo that at least one candidate should have been disqualified by the election administration as it is a requirement by law to speak fluent Navajo at the time of filing,” they stated.
Telephone and text messages for an interview or statement from Deschene were left with Dechene’s campaign staffer Lambert Benally, but by 9:42 p.m. on Sept. 9, neither Deschene or Benally had responded.
Patrick Sandoval, campaign director for presidential candidate Joe Shirley Jr., said on Sept. 9 that Shirley had decided not to comment on the complaint.
The four petitioners pointed out that the filing process for all candidates requires the submission of a signed and notarized affidavit as evidence that an individual is legally qualified to be a presidential candidate.
“If it is found that they do not meet the requirements and therefore submitted a falst affidavit, they can and should be removed from the elections by the Navajo Nation Election Administration,” they stated.
Begaye added, “Our complaints demonstrates our discontent with the Election Administration. No one is above the law.”
Both Deal and White emphasized in separate late night telephone interviews on Sept. 9 that their election grievance was about the legal responsibility of the election office and ethics office regarding “fairness” and “upholding Navajo law.”
Deal and White said that they were not supporting Shirley or presidential candidate Russell Begaye, who came in third in the Aug. 26 primary election and who could move into second place if the Office of Hearings and Appeals disqualify Deschene.
According to the Sept. 9 press release, the four petitioners attempted to file their grievance against Deschene before the Aug. 26 primary election but the election office informed them that only another presidential candidate could contest the qualifications of another candidate.
A telephone message was left for tribal Election Office Director Edison Wauneka, but by 9:42 p.m. on Sept. 9, Wauneka had not responded.
Election Office Deputy Director Johnny R. Thompson was unavailable for comment because Thompson retired in August.
Staff from the election office reported on Sept. 9 that the unofficial election results from the Aug. 26 primary were scheduled to become official on Sept. 11, but the complaint filed by Begaye, Deal, White and Johnson postponed that action.
And so while the election results remain unofficial, Wauneka remains a presidential candidate.
According to the press release from Begaye, Deal, White and Johnson, there were two presidential candidates that also filed similar complaints against Deschene on Sept. 5, which was the deadline for the filing of complaints regarding the primary election.
Telephone and text messages were left for Colleen Cooley, one of the authors of the Sept. 9 press release from the four petitioners, regarding the names of the two presidential candidates that also filed election complaints against Deschene.
By 10:24 p.m. on Sept. 9, Cooley had not responded.
Deal and White were unsure about the names of the two presidential candidates.
There were 17 presidential candidates in the Aug. 26 primary election. The tribal general election is Nov. 4.