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Lawsuit to postpone Navajo Nation general election dismissed

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A complaint that sought to postpone the general election on the Navajo Nation has been dismissed by the Window Rock Judicial District.

Eloise Brown, a tribal member, filed the lawsuit in August against the tribal government, claiming the voting rights of the Navajo people were violated when the Navajo Nation Council overrode a presidential veto to cancel the primary election.

Rather than a primary election, the council authorized the Nov. 3 general election be held by plurality vote to seat officials for chapter governments and to determine membership on various committees and boards.

Judge Malcolm Begay dismissed Brown's case on Oct. 27, citing that she did not follow provisions in tribal law to sue the tribe. Because of that, the district court did not have jurisdiction over the matter.

Poll workers Briana Ashley and Marlene Gonzalez help a voter at the Nenahnezad Chapter house in Fruitland in this undated file photo.

The decision came five days after the tribe filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Begay wrote in his decision that Brown's action hindered the people's right to vote.

"Insofar as the right to an election, it is the plaintiff who is attempting to take that right away from the Navajo people by cancelling the general election on November 3, 2020," the court order states.

Begay added that had Brown followed the requirements there would have been ample time for the court to consider the complaint and its motions for injunction.

Brown stated in a press conference in August that she filed the complaint to protect the Navajo people's right to participate in a fair election process, including casting ballots in a primary election.

"It's not right for the council just to go ahead and make a decision for the people without asking the people or without having voters involved," she said.

Members of the tribal council based their decision on recommendations by the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Navajo Election Administration. Both supported cancelling the primary election because of concerns about the coronavirus.

The tribal council overrode tribal President Jonathan Nez's veto in July.

This is the second decision made this week by Judge Begay regarding the general election.

On Oct. 24, Begay ruled in favor of a complaint to stop the election of school board members over allegations that the tribal council's Health, Education and Human Services Committee violated the process to reapportion school board districts.

The Office of the Speaker issued a press release on Oct. 28 that informed the public that the general election will take place on Nov. 3, except for voting for school board members.

"The election will take place on Nov. 3, and we encourage all Navajo citizens to exercise their right to vote," Speaker Seth Damon said in the release.

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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