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Navajo Nation primary election canceled as council overrides president's veto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Carolyn Yazzie fills in her ballot on July 21, 2015 at the Shiprock Chapter house in Shiprock.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council approved an override of tribal President Jonathan Nez's veto to cancel the primary election for the Navajo Nation.

This year's election will determine seats for chapter governments, boards and other offices. Because of the coronavirus, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors recommended canceling the Aug. 4 primary election and conduct the general election on Nov. 3 by plurality vote.

The idea received the council's backing in June but was vetoed by Nez this month.

Nez viewed the cancelation as denying the Navajo people's right to vote and such action counters the people's stance to protect the voting right.

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

The override mustered the 16 votes necessary to pass on July 22. Four delegates opposed it.

Melvin Harrison, chairman of the election board, commended the council's action in a July 23 interview.

"I know we got the 16 needed for the two-thirds vote, but I want to thank the council members for, what I feel, is doing the right thing and moving forward with the 2020 chapter election," Harrison said.

Nez thanked the four delegates who voted against the override in a tweet after the council's action.

The president reiterated the right to vote is an issue the Navajo people have fought for in federal and state elections, which was the bases of his veto decision.

"The power to vote and participate in electing our leaders is the most basic right afforded by our democracy. For the council to override the veto of resolution CJN-49-20 would contradict and jeopardize everything that our Navajo people have fought and litigated for over many years," Nez said in the release.

MORE:Navajo Nation government to remain closed due to rise in coronavirus cases

Harrison explained that the election board and election office have talked since March about ways to safely conduct the election.

"What has been paramount to us has been the safety of the voting public, especially the elders," he said adding that older Navajos traditionally have the highest voter participation.

A voter submits her ballot on April 21, 2015 at the Nenahnezad Chapter house during a special election for the Navajo Nation.

Harrison explained that Rodriquez Morris, interim executive director of the election office, talked about protecting voters when they cast ballots at chapter houses in November during a presentation to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and board members are confident safety measures will be in place.

MEETINGS ROUNDUP:Navajo Nation Council to attempt override on primary election

Council delegates passed a companion bill authorizing the election office receive $447,166 in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance to conduct the election.

The council resolution will be sent to Nez for his review and consideration.

"We're asking that the president sign the budget legislation, so we don't have a setback on funds for holding this election," Harrison 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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