Of 125,954 registered voters on the Navajo Nation, about half turned in ballots to elect officials at their local chapters this week. Turnout was down since the last series of chapter elections in 2008, when about 55 percent of registered voters cast their votes.
"I was really excited that this would be a record turnout for chapter elections, but it wasn't," said Edison Wauneka, executive director of the Navajo Election Administration.
Instead, of the five agencies, only one came close to reaching the previous 55 percent turnout. The Eastern Agency recorded a 53.3 percent turnout, greatly boosted by a single chapter, the 577-member Whitehorse Lake Chapter, which had a 100 percent turnout.
The other agencies, however, were below 50 percent, except for the Chinle Agency, which had a 50.18 percent turnout.
The 110 chapters that make up those agencies had a wide range of individual turnouts, none as high as the Whitehorse Lake Chapter and none as low as the Fort Defiance Chapter, which had a 29.7 percent turnout.
Most fell slightly below or above 50 percent.
The Shiprock Chapter, the largest chapter on the Navajo Nation, had 42.32 percent with 2,302 votes cast.
The Whiterock Chapter, the smallest chapter on the Navajo Nation, had 49.73 percent with 182 votes cast.
The number of registered voters is somewhat skewed, Wauneca said, because about a quarter of voters who register with their chapter only do so to get assistance from the chapter.
Because chapters get funds allocated to them based on their number of registered voters, chapters often require students to register before getting scholarships and others to register before getting any kind of aid.
Many people who register have no intention of voting, Wauneca said.
Additionally, the stakes were not quite as high in this election because fewer candidates were running, a likely reason for the dismal 30 percent turnout during the primary election.
"A lot of chapters didn't have candidates running opposed," said Erny Zah, spokesman for the Office of the President of the Navajo Nation, noting that it reduces voters' motivation to participate.
Zah said the fact that many people are moving off the reservation, and that the government is cracking down on chapter mismanagement could be a factor in the fewer number of candidates running for positions.
In the primary election, about 80 percent of candidates were running unopposed, or only had one opponent — meaning they were guaranteed candidacy in the general election.
Even now, after the general election, 51 elected positions still have not been filled, Wauneka said. The positions will be filled via special elections after already elected officials take their oath in January.
"We're thinking about doing away with primary elections. It is a waste of money," said Wauneca, who estimated that the primary election alone costs the Navajo Nation about $300,000.
If the Navajo Nation does not eliminate chapter primary elections, it may instead just put contested positions on the ballot during the primary.
"I think we need to do one or the other," said Wauneca.