Navajo Nation voters reject road improvement plan

Proposal calls for spending $216 million for projects

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Marilyn Yazzie enters the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland on Tuesday to vote on a proposed $216 million transportation stimulus plan.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Voters on the Navajo Nation soundly rejected a referendum today that would have provided funding for a multimillion-dollar transportation stimulus plan.

The ballot question asked voters to support or oppose using $216 million from the principal of the Permanent Trust Fund over a six-year period to improve nonpaved roads, and for bridge and gravel development in chapters.

As of 8 p.m., 109 out of 110 chapter precincts had reported unofficial results to the Navajo Election Administration, which was set up at the Navajo Nation Museum.

The unofficial results showed that 4,237 ballots were cast in favor of the referendum, and 14,795 ballots were cast against the measure.

Coyote Canyon was the only chapter left to report results.

Edbert Little, executive director for the election administration, said ballots from Coyote Canyon are being delivered to Window Rock for a hand count.

The chapter had two questions on the ballot, one for the referendum and the second that addressed the chapter's quorum, and there were questions regarding the returns, Little said.

MORE:Tribal election to determine transportation stimulus plan

A group opposed to a proposed $216 million transportation stimulus plan sets up a booth to feed voters Tuesday at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Earlier in the day, Upper Fruitland Chapter resident Albert Lee walked from the Upper Fruitland Chapter house, where he cast his ballot in opposition to the measure.

Lee said he did not support the initiative because the allocation could benefit other tribal departments, as well as provide stipends for individuals who serve on farm boards, grazing committees and land boards.

He added the proposal to address 20 miles of road improvements in the 24 regions is not enough to meet the needs of communities.

"I think it should be used equally," Lee said.

All 110 chapter precincts opened at 6 a.m.

Felencia Belin, the chief poll judge at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house, said voter turnout was slow, and 40 ballots had been cast as of 10 a.m.

"Usually by this time, which is 10 o'clock, we usually have over 100 votes by now," Belin said.

MORE:Navajo Nation Council approves $636 million budget for FY 2018

Election worker Chris Johnson, right, registers ballots Tuesday at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house.

At the San Juan Chapter house, chapter resident George Arthur said he voted against the measure.

He decided not to support the transportation stimulus plan because each chapter would only receive up to 3 miles of road improvement.

"My thoughts are around one word, 'stimulus.' What does stimulus mean? … For this endeavor, it's not going to make an impact. Going back to the word, 'stimulus,' it's not going to stimulate anything," Arthur said.

The referendum must be approved by a two-thirds majority of voters who cast a ballot in today's election, according to the Navajo Nation Council resolution that referred the election to the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

Arthur, who served on the tribal council from 1999 to 2011, said to his knowledge, this is the first time an initiative tied to the Permanent Trust Fund has gone before voters.

"Maybe somebody is testing the waters," he said.

Along a section of U.S. Highway 64 near the Shiprock Chapter house, two large signs asked voters to oppose the referendum.

On Oct. 15, chapter members passed a resolution to oppose using the Permanent Trust Fund principal for the stimulus plan because the initiative goes against the intent of the Permanent Trust Fund.

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

Autumn Mike looks over a sample ballot Tuesday at the San Juan Chapter house in Lower Fruitland.