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Navajo Nation Supreme Court orders Chris Deschene off the general election ballot

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Supreme Court today ordered the Navajo Election Administration to comply with tribal law and replace Chris Deschene with Navajo Nation Council delegate Russell Begaye as a presidential candidate on the general election ballot.

That action likely will delay the Nov. 4 election.

Deschene was disqualified as a candidate on Oct. 9 by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals. But members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors decided to keep him on the ballot and not to postpone the Nov. 4 general election.

"The ballots are to be immediately reprinted without the name of the disqualified candidate, Christopher C. Deschene," the opinion states.

Deschene's representatives could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Chief Justice Herb Yazzie and Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley also entered a permanent writ of mandamus against the election office and the election board.

"It is unavoidable that the November 4, 2014 election must be postponed as agreed to by the chief legislative counsel, and as permitted by 11 N.N.C. 3 to ensure a valid election," the opinion stated.

That section of tribal law authorizes the election board to postpone an election for up to 60 days for the purpose of printing new ballots because of a change in circumstances.

Associate Justice by Designation Irene Black wrote the minority dissenting opinion. In it, she stated the petition for a writ of mandamus filed last week by former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne was "insufficient" because it contained no copy of any order or resolution by the election board or any other information to support the "allegation" that both the board and the office refused to remove Deschene from the ballot and replace his name with Begaye.

Black wrote that in her opinion, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to issue the writ. She added that the high court does not have unlimited jurisdiction.

The petition filed by Tsosie and Whitethorne asked the high court to force the election board and the election office to follow Navajo law and replace Deschene's name since he was disqualified by a default judgment after he declined to answer questions asked of him in Navajo to determine his fluency during an Oct. 9 hearing by the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Under Navajo law, an individual must fluently speak and understand the Navajo language and read and write the English language to qualify for the presidential office.

The official results from the Aug. 26 primary election show former president Joe Shirley Jr. finishing first with 11,052 votes, followed by Deschene with 9,831 votes and Begaye finishing in third place with 7,453 votes.

The court heard more than two hours of oral arguments on Monday in Tsé Bonito, but did not reach a decision then.

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