Former member of Navajo Board of Election Supervisors says board followed law

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FORT DEFIANCE, ARIZ. — Nearly two months after members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors were removed from office, one former member maintains the board did not violate tribal law in its handling of the Nov. 4 general election.

"We have to follow the law, and I feel that we have. We didn't break any law at all. I think we complied with everything," said LeNora Y. Fulton, a former election board member, in an interview Monday at the Apache County offices in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Fulton served with eight others on the election board. In an Oct. 31 decision, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled the board was in civil contempt of court and removed them from office. The court issued its ruling after the former board did not follow an Oct. 23 order to postpone the tribe's Nov. 4 general election and reprint the ballots without former presidential candidate Chris Deschene's name.

Deschene was disqualified by default judgment on Oct. 9 in a decision by the tribe's Office of Hearings and Appeals. His name was to be replaced by Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye, who finished third in the primary election.

"This is a week before the general election. Physically, it's impossible. It's not possible to do that," Fulton said of the Oct. 23 order.

She added there is no law allowing an election that is already in progress to be postponed, and there is no law to terminate an election.

During the interview, Fulton maintained that the election board worked within the context of the law and the members thought the election was in order, as dictated by the law.

In addition to being removed, the court's Oct. 31 ruling barred the former board members from seeking any elected tribal office for eight years.

At the time of the ruling, Fulton was seeking a fourth term on the election board. Three other board members were seeking tribal office as well.

Although Fulton is no longer an election board member, she said she continues to receive comments and questions from the people she represented. One of those questions is when the presidential special election will take place.

On Dec. 17, the Supreme Court ordered the presidential special election to be held no later than Jan. 31.

"That's not the job of the Supreme Court. That belongs to the election board," Fulton said.

Since the Supreme Court ordered the board's removal, former board members have requested that the ruling be reconsidered.

On Dec. 22, the high court dismissed with prejudice a petition for permanent injunction the former board members filed that day. In its decision, the high court stated it was unclear which members of the board filed the petition. The decision went on to say it was assumed the petition was filed by former members seeking re-election and the petitioners were unable to cite the tribal law that supports their actions.

The former board members also filed motions for reconsideration, but the court denied those.

Fulton, along with former board members Wallace Charley, Tom M. White Jr., Ruth Watson and Jonathan Tso, filed grievances with the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals. Each one was dismissed on Dec. 8 for lack of jurisdiction.

Now that the former board members' legal options are exhausted, a bill has been introduced to the tribal council that calls for the pardon and reinstatement of the nine board members.

The bill was added to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee's special meeting agenda on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz., but was not considered because the committee lost quorum.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie is sponsoring the bill, which ended its five-day public comment period on Sunday.

Among the reasons the legislation lists for the pardon is that the former board members did not receive due process and the Supreme Court did not "specifically delineate" how the members did not abide by the Oct. 23 order.

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.