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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Election Administration has scheduled a special election on Dec. 23 to determine the tribal presidency.

Former president Joe Shirley Jr. and his running mate Dineh Benally face Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye and his running mate Jonathan Nez in the race.

The special election was scheduled based on a ruling made last week by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that stated Begaye must replace former presidential candidate Chris Deschene on the ballot for the presidential office.

The high court's ruling upheld the Oct. 9 decision made by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals that disqualified Deschene. Deschene refused to participate in a test to determine his fluency in Navajo, which is a requirement for the presidency.

Edison Wauneka, executive director of the election administration, said tribal law allows an election to be postponed up to 60 days.

If the election office decided to use the entire 60-day period, the special election would have taken place next year, he said.

The election could have also been set for Dec. 30 but that would have caused a problem for the Rio Rancho company that prints the ballots, he added.

"So the 23rd is the most appropriate time," Wauneka said.

The election office staff is continuing to establish a timeline for the various deadlines associated with an election, such as when to start early voting, but they hope to have the ballot to the printing company in two weeks.

When Wauneka appeared before the Supreme Court on Oct. 31 in Chinle Ariz., he said an additional $285,000 would be needed to conduct the special election.

He said the legislation for that funding remains at the Office of the Speaker awaiting his signature. It must then be sponsored by a delegate and approved by the Council.

Another item that the election office is keeping an eye on is a grievance filed last week by former presidential candidate Myron McLaughlin against Begaye.

The grievance is challenging Begaye's qualification for the presidency and alleges Begaye violated tribal law through his service as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company.

A hearing on the matter is set for 9 a.m. on Nov. 13 at the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals in Window Rock, Ariz.

"We're hoping that can be resolved right away," Wauneka said.

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.

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