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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council tabled an emergency bill to postpone the election cycle for chapter governments and other offices on the Navajo Nation.

The council voted 15 in favor, eight opposed on April 10 to table the legislation for 60 days and directed the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors to address the postponement and issue a resolution to the council within 60 days.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Eugene Tso, proposes delaying the election until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It would also extend the terms for current office holders.

The election board passed a resolution on April 9 recommending the council postpone the election, according to the board chairman Melvin Harrison. He said the board worries about the health and safety of voters, candidates, poll workers and election office staff.

Current predictions have the coronavirus peaking in the region between May and July, which is when the election cycle is underway, he said.

"We didn't make this discussion very lightly," Harrison said.

The filing period for candidates is scheduled 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.

Murray Lee, interim executive director for the Navajo Election Administration, said the election office was requesting the delay given current circumstances.

"We don't know what's going to happen from here. To safeguard the voters and in order not to keep them in one place, it's best to postpone the election," Lee said.

Delegate Edison Wauneka said while he understands the need to keep people safe, the election board has the authority to postpone an election for up to 60 because of "unforeseen circumstances."

Wauneka, a former executive director for the election administration, said he recommended the board use their authority to delay the election and continue monitoring the coronavirus situation.

He added several delegates and chapter officials were unaware of the legislation.

"I think we need to make them aware of this, because elected positions belong to the people," Wauneka said.

Delegate Carl Slater was the one only who spoke in favor of the bill before Delegate Jamie Henio motioned to table it.

Slater said the tribe has so far been under-resourced to combat the coronavirus epidemic.

By holding primary and general elections, it will provide opportunities for huge spikes in infections, he said.

"Our paramount concern as a council right now needs to be preventing the overloading of our health care system," Slater said.

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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