Navajo election board says Deschene to remain on ballot despite disqualification

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors has reaffirmed an earlier decision that the tribe's Nov. 4 general election will proceed with Joe Shirley Jr. and Chris Deschene on the ballot as presidential candidates.

The board voted seven in favor and zero opposed to continue listing Deschene, despite his disqualification as a candidate in an Oct. 9 ruling by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne filed grievances last month against Deschene, accusing him of lying on the candidacy affidavit about his ability to fluently speak and understand the Navajo language, which are requirements of the presidential office.

The Navajo Election Code says the candidate who finished third in the primary election should be the new candidate on the general election ballot.

The official results from the Aug. 26 primary election show Shirley with 11,052 votes, Deschene with 9,831 votes and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye in third place with 7,453 votes.

The board made its initial decision to continue the general election as is on Sept. 30, despite the fact that Deschene's case was under consideration by the Office of Hearings and Appeals. And board members reaffirmed their decision Monday after discussing a report they received about the general election from Chief Legislative Counsel Levon Henry during a special meeting in Window Rock, Ariz.

"I want to put on record that the election is still ongoing," election board member Jonathan Tso said, adding that the board "recognizes" the right of the Navajo people to choose their leaders through the election process.

Election board member Norman L. Begay said in a previous ruling that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court has ruled that the board is an "independent entity" and does not "bow" to orders made by the Supreme Court or the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Begay said after the board's Sept. 30 action, people had the opportunity to file an injunction with the tribal courts, but no one did.

"In the primary election, they picked Joe Shirley and Chris Deschene. I'm not about to change that," he said. "I would rather face repercussion (from) OHA than go against my people."

Election board chairman Wallace Charley said the board was focused on protecting, honoring and implementing the people's votes.

"If the other people, the other court, if they could have done that, we wouldn't have this problem," Charley said.

The Navajo Election Code states that when a candidate files to run, the other candidates have 10 days to question that candidate's qualifications, he said.

"My question is, 'Where were those two?'" Charley said of Tsosie and Whitethorne. "Putting a complaint in after the primary, that's not part of the law. A private citizen cannot challenge a candidate."

In a statement issued after his disqualification, Deschene said work would begin on drafting a motion to reconsider and he said he would consider an appeal to the tribe's Supreme Court.

The deadline for an appeal to the high court is Monday.

Deschene attended the special meeting with members of his campaign and supporters.

"I'm very happy with the decision of the board of election supervisors to protect the voice and the vote of the people," Deschene said in an interview after the meeting.

In the meantime, he said his campaign will move forward and "continue to win the hearts and minds of our people."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.