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Nez vetoes bill that sought to cancel tribe's primary election amid COVID-19 pandemic

Office of the Speaker says tribal council can override the veto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Voters fill out their ballots during the Navajo Nation general election on Nov. 8, 2016 at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house.

GALLUP — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has vetoed a bill that would have cancelled the tribe's primary election for chapter governments in August.

The bill proposed to cancel the primary election on Aug. 4. Instead, the general election on Nov. 3 would be by plurality vote to determine chapter presidents, vice presidents and secretary-treasurers as well as seats for alternative forms of government and memberships on grazing committees, land boards, school boards, farm boards and the election board.

The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Navajo Election Administration recommended the cancellation and proposed a new timeline for the election process due to ongoing concern about the coronavirus.

The bill was passed by the Navajo Nation Council in a special session on June 19 and resolution CJN-49-20 was sent to Nez for his review. He vetoed the resolution on July 3.

"We are in a difficult time now where we need to be seriously concerned for our people's health, safety and welfare but we must balance that concern without giving up our hard earned right to vote," Nez wrote in his veto message on July 2 to Speaker Seth Damon.

Read more:Navajo Nation Council passes bill to cancel fair season

Damon did not downplay the importance of voting to the Navajo people in a July 6 statement to The Daily Times. Rather, he explained that the council decided to prioritize public health in supporting the legislation.

"By cancelling the August chapter government primary elections, the Navajo people will still have their votes and choices count in the November general election while allowing more time for the Navajo Election Administration to establish safe in-person voting for the approximately 50,000-plus voters that show up at the polls. It's a tough decision for Navajo leaders to make, but it's the best way we can prevent thousands of Navajo people and their families from potential exposure to the coronavirus at campaign rallies, candidate events and polling places," Damon said.

Voters form a line to receive ballots during the Navajo Nation primary election on Aug. 30, 2016 at the Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter house in Hogback.

Nez wrote that the cancellation hinders the voting process and undermines the tribe's stance in court cases to protect the voting rights of the Navajo people in state elections.

"CJN-49-20 has the potential to undo all the legal arguments made by the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and cripple the nation's position in state election cases," he wrote.

Nez chastised the election board and tribal council for not reaching out to the justice department for an adequate solution.

"There may have been a solution to our own election situation rather than an immediate rush to cancel our primary election," he wrote.

More:Filing period delayed for candidates to submit paperwork for Navajo Nation election

While the president agreed that the coronavirus pandemic challenges daily life, he wrote people have adapted and accept new social norms to keep safe.

"A veto of CJN-49-20 protects the right to vote of all Navajo people and we recommend the Navajo election office and the Navajo Nation Board of Election Supervisors consider alternative methods to allow Navajo people their vote in the chapter elections," Nez wrote.

According to the Office of the Speaker, the tribal council can override the veto.

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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