Latest motion asks Navajo Nation Supreme Court to impose election order

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Supreme Court is being asked to enforce its previous order to have the tribal presidential special election proceed as scheduled.

The latest motion was filed by attorneys for former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne at 9:08 a.m. Wednesday in the Supreme Court in Window Rock, Ariz.

The filing comes two days after Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed a Navajo Nation Council resolution that authorizes $317,891 in supplemental funding to the Navajo Election Administration to pay for a referendum and the special election.

The referendum would ask voters to amend the Navajo and English language fluency qualifications for the president and vice presidency.

The motion requests the high court to take "strong action" to protect the integrity of the tribal government and the right of the Navajo people to elect a president.

On Feb. 20, the Supreme Court ordered the election administration to conduct the presidential special election between candidates Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye. The high court did not set and election date but stated it should take place "without further delay."

The election administration announced that the special election, which includes filling open seats on the Navajo Board of Election Administration, would take place on April 21. The election administration also established a time line for election activities such as voter registration and absentee voting.

The motion highlights that ruling and asks the Supreme Court "to act swiftly" to ensure the April 21 special election proceeds as scheduled.

In addition to that request, the motion offers six possibilities for the court to consider, including partially or completely invalidating the resolution but offering alternatives for funding the special election.

Funding options include directing the Office of the Controller and the Office of Management and Budget to provide money or ordering the election administration to establish a separate account for the special election.

Another alternative is to issue an order to show cause and hold the council in contempt.

In a footnote, the petitioners clarify that they do not oppose the referendum, but the resolution impacts the special election, an action they label as "unacceptable."

In a statement, Speaker LoRenzo Bates explained that the resolution in question is now valid tribal law, and in accordance with the law, the election administration will hold the referendum, then proceed with the special election.

"Mr. Tsosie and Mr. Whitethorne are attempting to take away the people's right to decide this important issue. The Navajo Nation Council, in addressing this resolution, is giving this issue to the Navajo people as the Navajo courts have previously decided in their court opinions," Bates said.

He reiterated that the presidential election "will take place as soon as possible, but after the people have spoken."

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.