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COVID-19 crisis could delay election on Navajo Nation

Measure seeks to push November election to 2021

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Voter registration signs are pictured on Aug. 25, 2018 at the Shiprock Chapter house.
  • Delegate Eugene Tso, who represents the Chinle Chapter in Arizona, is sponsoring the bill.
  • The measure would extend the terms of current chapter officials and other office holders.
  • The election board will meet on April 9 to review the proposal.

FARMINGTON — An emergency bill going before the Navajo Nation Council seeks to postpone the primary and general elections for chapter governments because of the COVID-19 crisis.

The bill proposes to push this year's election to 2021 and extend the terms of current chapter officials and other office holders.

Delegate Eugene Tso, who represents the Chinle Chapter in Arizona, is sponsoring the bill.

The measure was posted on the council's website on April 8 and because it is an emergency bill, it is not subject to a five-day comment period.

The Navajo Department of Health reported the first positive case for COVID-19 on March 17 for a 46-year-old woman from Chilchinbeto, Arizona. Since then, officials have taken steps to reduce the spread of the virus in communities by enacting public health emergency orders to stay at home and to reduce travel to areas away from the reservation, and by setting nightly curfews.

The bill acknowledges those measures and the overall need to protect public health as reasons for delaying the election.

Voters enter the Shiprock Chapter house to cast ballots in the Navajo Nation general election on Nov. 6, 2018.

The Navajo Epidemiology Center, the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the tribe's health department reported 426 positive COVID-19 cases and a death toll of 17 for the Navajo Nation as of April 7.

The legislation also states that the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors "supports and recommends" the postponement.

The election board will meet on April 9 to review the proposal. The earliest the council can consider the bill is April 10, according to the Office of the Speaker.

Community members head to the Shiprock Chapter house to cast ballots in the Navajo Nation primary election on Aug. 28, 2018.

The filing period for candidates was set to open on April 23 for chapter presidents, vice presidents and secretary-treasurers, as well as officers for alternative forms of government and memberships on grazing committees, land boards, school boards, farm boards and the election board.

The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 4, and the general election is set for Nov. 3.

The Navajo Election Administration is an office under the legislative branch, which extended the closure of certain offices and services to April 26.

Repeated calls to the election administration in Window Rock, Arizona, were not answered on April 8.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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