Special meeting for Navajo Board of Election Supervisors focuses on petition to remove Deschene from ballot
WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Although members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors would not comment on the content of an executive session held Thursday to discuss an effort to remove presidential candidate Chris Deschene from the ballot, the board's chairman said early voting would continue and the election is still scheduled for Nov. 4.
Board members called a special meeting to talk about a petition filed on Tuesday in the Navajo Nation Supreme Court by attorneys for former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne.
The petition, filed by attorneys David Jordan and Justin Jones, requests that the high court order the election board to enforce an Oct. 9 ruling by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals that disqualified Deschene as a presidential candidate. The disqualification was based on Deschene's refusal to cooperate with a Navajo language fluency test ordered by the court. Fluency is a requirement for the office of president.
It also requests that the third place finisher of the primary election replace Deschene on general election ballot, as mandated by tribal law.
That individual — Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye from Shiprock finished third, according to the official count — would face Joe Shirley Jr., the top vote getter, for the presidency. Deschene was second.
Election board chairman Wallace Charley said the board's ongoing concern is protecting the public's voting rights because they have the right to elect their leaders.
"I want to make it clear, this body — Navajo Board of Election Supervisors — the issue with the board is not candidate Shirley or candidate Deschene," Charley said. "The issue with us is the rights of Diné voters."
Since early voting started on Oct. 6, approximately 4,000 people have picked up absentee ballot applications and more than 3,000 absentee ballots have been sent, Charley said.
He said the board would comply with any court order but the Oct. 9 order from the Office of Hearings and Appeals stated that it "expects" the election office to place the third-place finisher on the general election ballot.
"It all depends on how you interpret 'expect,'" he said, adding that the board was not "deviating" from tribal election law.
"The board is not creating crisis, somebody else is creating that," Charley said.
Moments after Charley finished speaking, election board member LeNora Y. Fulton made a motion to go into an executive session, which members approved in a vote of five in favor and three opposed.
They spent more than an hour in executive session. After it concluded, Charley announced that neither board members nor election office staff would comment on the content of the meeting.
However, Charley confirmed that early voting continues and the general election will be on Nov. 4.
Also on Thursday, Deschene's attorney, Brian Lewis, filed a motion to intervene with the Supreme Court.
The motion is asking the court to allow Deschene to become a party to the petition because it is based on previous court filings against him.