Board counsel cites high court opinion in letter

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FARMINGTON — A Navajo Nation voter's request to obtain further information about the tribe's 2014 general election has been denied by the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

Jackie Burbank, a registered voter at the Blue Gap Chapter in Arizona, submitted a written request this month to the election board and the Navajo Election Administration to retrieve and certify the complete results from the general election, which were never disclosed after a lengthy court battle led to the disqualification of one of the nation's presidential candidates.

He also asked that the results be released to tribal voters in hope of informing voters about the number of votes cast on Nov. 4, 2014, for the tribal presidency.

After a protracted battle surrounding the eligibility of presidential candidate Chris Deschene, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ordered before the election that the election administration conduct a special election for the presidency. Deschene had been disqualified earlier, but the general election ballots already had been printed with his name on them. That order stipulated that any presidential votes cast in the general election or by absentee or early voting, when Deschene's name was still on the ballot, were not to be counted or disclosed.

Chief Legislative Counsel Levon Henry responded on behalf of the election board in a May 23 letter to Burbank.

Henry wrote the election board "is not able to comply with" the request before explaining that the reason for the noncompliance was based on the Nov. 4, 2014, written opinion by the tribe's Supreme Court.

The letter cites the high court opinion that if voting occurred for the president, the election administration director "shall ensure" those votes and votes by absentee or early voting will not be tallied or disclosed.

"If the board of election supervisors agreed to your request they would put themselves in the position of disobeying a Navajo Nation court order," Henry wrote.

"For this reason the board of election supervisors is not able to retrieve, certify or release the 2014 election results for Navajo Nation president," he wrote.

When Burbank attended the May 11 regular meeting for the election board in Window Rock, Ariz., board members went into executive session to discuss his request.

Burbank said today the board could have discussed the matter in open session and allowed him to explain his reasons.

"I'm not satisfied with the response because the election board never took a vote on it," Burbank said.

When asked if the 2014 ballots still exist, Edbert Little, executive director of the election administration, said he is new to the office, then added that ballots are recycled and reused.

He referred a question about policies for keeping ballots to Henry and declined to comment further.

Melvin Harrison, chairman of the election board, said he has not reviewed the letter issued to Burbank and referred questions to Little and Henry.

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

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