Tribal election office seeks election funding

Noel Lyn Smith
Voters fill out their ballots in the Navajo Nation primary election on Aug. 30 at the Hogback Chapter house.

FARMINGTON — In a new bill, the Navajo Election Administration is requesting $510,616 in supplemental funding to cover expenses related to the tribe's Nov. 8 general election.

Delegate Lee Jack Sr. is sponsoring the bill, which would provide the amount from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance to pay for services such as ballots, stipends and travel expenses for poll officials, and operational expenses for the election office.

Edison Wauneka, executive director for the election administration, said the number of ballots needed for the general election is 94,500 and printing the ballots would cost $98,915.

The office has yet to pay the printing company in Albuquerque, but the "good relationship" the two entities have developed through the years allowed the election office to receive ballots, Wauneka said.

Early walk-in voting started Monday at the agency election offices in Shiprock and Crownpoint, and in Chinle, Tuba City and Window Rock in Arizona.

Another concern is paying 440 poll officials for their services on Election Day, Wauneka said.

There are approximately 70 positions that have no candidates, and the office will use a portion of the supplemental funding to hold special elections to fill those positions, he said.

As of Sept. 14, there were 17 open seats in the Northern Agency, according to the election office.

Voters line up to vote in the Navajo Nation primary election on Aug. 30 at the Shiprock Chapter house.

The balance of the UUFB is $7 million, according to a Sept. 21 memorandum from Controller Jim Parris to the three branch chiefs.

At the time, there were three pending supplemental funding requests, including a $482,566 request for the election office, which was approved by the Navajo Nation Council during the budget session for fiscal year 2017.

The three requests were among those that were line-item vetoed by tribal President Russell Begaye last month.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates called into question the legitimacy of Begaye's veto actions, and tribal officials are continuing to discuss how to proceed with the fiscal year 2017 budget.

In Begaye's memorandum to the speaker and the council on Sept. 27, the president explained his reasoning for vetoing the funding. The president wrote that the election office requests supplemental funding each election season, and "permanent funding should be identified and provided for each election cycle."

Wauneka called the president's veto "disappointing" and said he explained to tribal leaders the need for the amount.

"It's disappointing to look at what's going on with the president and council. I was hoping the president would sign off on the budget," Wauneka said.

The legislation containing the $510,616 supplemental request will be eligible for consideration by the Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday. It has also been assigned to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and to the council.

If the council does not consider the bill during its fall session next week, Wauneka is considering another route for paying poll officials by asking chapters to use money from the public employment program.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.