Navajo Nation Supreme Court is asked to hold tribe's election board and election office in contempt

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — The Navajo Nation Supreme Court is being asked to hold the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Navajo Election Administration in contempt for not complying with a court order regarding the general election.

Attorneys for former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne filed the motion and order to show cause at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

It stems from the Oct. 23 ruling by the Supreme Court that ordered the election office and election board to comply with tribal law and remove presidential candidate Chris Deschene from the ballot and replace his name with Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye, who finished third in the primary election.

Deschene was disqualified as a candidate after he declined to answer questions asked of him in the Navajo language to determine his fluency during an Oct. 9 hearing by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Deschene's qualification was questioned after grievances filed by Tsosie and Whitethorne alleged he does not speak or understand Navajo fluently, a requirement for the presidency.

In the Oct. 23 decision, the high court ordered the election office to reprint the ballots without Deschene's name and postpone the Nov. 4 general election.

The latest motion requests the Supreme Court schedule a hearing immediately and that law enforcement officers be present at the hearing.

It requests that all members of the election board and the election office's executive director attend the hearing. If they do not attend, bench warrants would be issued.

The motion requests each member and the executive director explain to the court why the order was not followed

. It is also requesting that the board members and executive director be detained by law enforcement officers for contempt of court.

They would not be released until the order is "fully" and "verifiably complied with," according to the motion.

Lastly, the court is being asked to immediately strip the board members of their elected positions and deem them disqualified and ineligible for any current or future tribal elected offices.

In a special meeting on Monday, the election board maintained it is proceeding with the election as scheduled and is continuing to protect the voting rights of the Navajo people.

Edison Wauneka, executive director of the election office, declined to comment today about the motion.

The motion stated the election board and election office have "blatantly defied" the Supreme Court order and their conduct is neither "supported nor excused" by the council's passage of legislation that maintains the Navajo language requirement but has a candidate's fluency determined by voters.

"The rights of the parties in this case are vested, and the council may not pass ex post facto legislation that purports to divest parties of previously obtained rights," according to the motion.

That legislation was signed last Friday by Pro Tem Speaker LoRenzo Bates, and it remains under review by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly.

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