Navajo Nation election director says special election will continue
FARMINGTON — Although a district court judge on Friday ordered that Tuesday's special election be suspended, Navajo Election Administration Executive Director Edison Wauneka says the election is still on.
In an order signed at 4:48 p.m. Friday, Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry granted a petition for permanent injunction that was filed this week by four former members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors. Perry also ordered the referendum election to amend the language qualifications for the presidency and vice presidency take place before the special election.
While Wauneka said he was surprised by the ruling, he maintained that the special election will continue as scheduled.
"We're going to keep going," Wauneka said, adding that his office will file an appeal as soon as possible on Monday.
On March 20, the tribe's Supreme Court ordered Tuesday's special election to continue between Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye. Voters on Tuesday will also fill six vacancies on the election board.
With two courts issuing conflicting decisions, Wauneka said the election administration will continue to follow the high court's directive.
Wauneka said the district court ruling violates the voting rights of those who have already cast ballots, as well as the rights of the candidates. Early walk-in voting for the special election ended Friday, and absentee mail-in ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wauneka said.
Shirley reiterated that the lower court does not override the high court.
"The district court cannot dictate to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. ... I don't think the injunction will go anywhere," Shirley said, adding that the high court has already "handed down" several orders, including directives enforcing Tuesday's election.
With several campaign rallies scheduled throughout the weekend, Shirley said he will continue to encourage the people to vote.
"They can play their games," he said. "I don't appreciate it myself as a member of the voting body."
Begaye could not be reached for comment because he was meeting with supporters at a campaign stop in Piñon, Ariz., according to his campaign.
The petition asking to suspend the special election was filed by former election board members Norman L. Begay, Harry D. Brown Sr., Wallace Charley and Ruth H. Watson. It also requested a temporary restraining order against the election administration and Wauneka.
Earlier in the week, Perry denied the temporary restraining order and scheduled a hearing on Tuesday for the group's petition to suspend the special election.
In court documents, the group stated it sought the suspension because of concerns the election administration was violating tribal law by holding the special election before allowing voters to weigh in on a referendum that could amend the language fluency qualifications for the president and vice president.
On March 13, the Navajo Nation Council approved a resolution containing the referendum. President Ben Shelly signed it into law March 16.
The group's opinion was reinforced on Tuesday during testimony provided by Charley and Watson, which was mentioned in Perry's written decision.
Charley and the group's advocate, Lee R. Belone, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
In Perry's order, she ruled tribal law must be enforced, and the referendum election must take place prior to the election to determine the presidency.
"The court is mindful of the impact this controversy and its uncertainty has had taken on the minds, the hearts and the lives of the Navajo voters and candidates. The logic in determining the qualifications of candidate first and thereafter holding an election is not only sensible, but it is the law," Perry wrote.