Navajo Nation presidential candidates want Supreme Court to invalidate special election resolution

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation Presidential candidates Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye are asking the Navajo Nation Supreme Court to uphold tribal law by ordering that the presidential special election take place immediately with their names as the presidential candidates on the ballot.

Both candidates also are asking the high court to invalidate a resolution passed by the Navajo Nation Council that set dates for presidential special elections in June and August.

In amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," briefs filed last week, both candidates requested that the high court invalidate the resolution passed by the Council on Dec. 30 then signed into law by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly on Jan. 10.

Former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne, submitted a motion last month, asking the court to invalidate the resolution setting the special elections.

Their motion asked the high court to order the Navajo Election Administration to conduct the presidential special election by the end of January.

Although Shirley and Begaye were not listed as respondents in Tsosie and Whitethorne's Jan. 12 motion, the high court invited them to submit amicus curiae briefs by Feb. 6.

The resolution allows for a special June run-off election for all 17 candidates who ran in last year's primary election, including disqualified presidential candidate Chris Deschene, followed by an August general election.

Deschene was disqualified in October by the tribe's Office of Hearing and Appeals. He had refused to take a test to determine his ability to speak the Navajo language fluently, which is a qualification for the presidency.

Shirley's Feb. 5 brief called the resolution a violation of the human right to the "principles of transparency, meaningful notice to the public, opportunities for public comment and participation, and making wise public policy choices" that result in a "meaningful legislation."

Allowing a run-off election to occur, the brief says, would "unfairly" harm Shirley's interests.

The brief also points out that the Navajo Election Code puts a limit on how much a candidate can spend on a campaign. So if he is forced into an extended campaign, Shirley said he would be limited in his ability to get his campaign message across to voters in a "meaningful way."

Begaye filed his brief on Feb. 6 and stated that if Deschene remained on the ballot for the run-off election, it would "take the election back to where the election disarray first began" and would "intensify the disharmony and confusion" among the people.

"If the resolution is not invalidated, it will continue to delay the election which will only escalate the disharmony and confusion among our people and not bring the much needed finality and hózhó back to the Navajo Nation and our people," according to Begaye's brief.

Hózhó is a Navajo word that could be translated to mean peace, balance, beauty or harmony.

Tsosie and Whitethorne's motion also seeks to have certain tribal officials held in contempt of court and asks the court to invalidate another resolution to pardon and reinstate members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors. Board members were unseated by the Supreme Court when they did not schedule the new election in a timely manner.

In response, the court issued an order setting a briefing schedule for Tsosie and Whitethorne, the election administration, the election board and the council.

The high court also stated that oral arguments would be announced at a later date, according to a Jan. 16 Judicial Branch press release.

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.