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Navajo Election to Be Held ‘Without Further Delay’

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court recently ordered an election to take place “as soon as possible and without further delay” and for only 2 candidates.
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Navajo voters may soon go to the polls to select a new president.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court on Friday ordered an election to take place “as soon as possible and without further delay” and for only two candidates – Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye – to be on the ballots. The court’s opinion struck down legislation that would have allowed a repeat of last year’s primary election with all 17 original candidates competing again for the Nation’s highest elected position.

Shirley, who previously served two terms as president, and political newcomer Chris Deschene emerged as top candidates after the August primary. The Supreme Court in October disqualified Deschene when he failed to prove he was fluent in the Navajo language, and ordered Begaye, the third-place finisher, to face off against Shirley. The court also ordered an election to take place by January 31.

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Yet heated protests, lawsuits and emergency legislation – including the Council’s attempt to redo the entire process – kept the election in gridlock for several months. Friday’s opinion, which was signed by the three chief justices, calls for harmony and an end to the delays.

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 “Because of the self-interested actions of the (election) board and the Council to disregard Navajo laws, the presidential election is now more than three months late,” the opinion states. “The initial effort of this court to have the election by January 31, 2015, has been further delayed by the Council's most recent grab for power.”

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The opinion instructs the Navajo Election Administration to “immediately set the date for the general election,” order ballots, commence absentee voting and tentatively schedule an inauguration ceremony. It also directs the Council to convene a special session to appropriate funding for the election.

Both presidential candidates expressed relief over the Supreme Court’s opinion and optimism that the election is finally moving forward.

“It’s been a waiting game,” Begaye said during a phone interview. “A pattern has developed with this election. It is chaotic, and its impacts are everywhere. When we don’t have a permanent president, everything is temporary. Everything is on hold, on every level.”

Begaye’s campaign, which is based on a platform of unity and working together, is “gearing back up,” he said, and he’s excited for the race. “Not knowing the day of the election, that makes it hard.”

Begaye’s running mate is Jonathan Nez, who was re-elected to the Council in November. If he wins the election, Nez will have to resign from that position.

Shirley’s running mate is Dineh Benally, a baseball coach and Bureau of Indian Affairs employee. Campaign spokesman Alray Nelson said Shirley and Benally both are pleased with the Supreme Court opinion and look forward to the election.

“Navajo law was upheld by the Supreme Court,” Nelson said. “The people have had enough. Our Nation is ready to heal from this division. Let the people vote and give them a legitimate ballot.”

In his campaign, Shirley promised “effective leadership and sustainable change.” He invites voters to join with him to “build a strong, fierce, independent Nation.”

Current President Ben Shelly, who came in seventh during last year’s primary election, is serving an unprecedented extended term. He and Vice President Rex Lee Jim took oaths of office in January and will serve in their positions until the election is held.