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Navajo Board of Election Supervisors clarifies votes needed to pass referendum

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors has clarified the number of votes needed to pass the July 21 referendum on the language fluency requirement for the Navajo president and vice president.

The recent resolution clarifies the referendum would pass if a majority of eligible registered voters who vote in the election cast their ballots in favor of the measure.

The election board approved the resolution containing the clarification in a vote of 8-0 during a June 25 regular meeting in Window Rock, Ariz.

The referendum will ask voters whether or not to amend the language qualifications for the president and vice president so a candidate's ability to speak and understand Navajo and English would be determined by voters when they cast ballots.

Current tribal law mandates the president and vice president fluently speak and understand Navajo, as well as read and write English.

The referendum election comes after the recent special election when former presidential candidate Chris Deschene was disqualified by a default judgment after he refused to take a test to determine his ability to speak Navajo fluently.

On May 28, the election board passed a resolution containing the ballot language in accordance to the bill the Navajo Nation Council approved on March 13 and then-President Ben Shelly signed it into law on March 16.

The May resolution also stated the referendum would pass if a majority of eligible registered voters cast ballots in favor of it.

There were 118,673 registered voters in the April 21 special election, according to the Navajo Election Administration.

Election board chairman Rodger Martinez could not be reached for comment by press time, and election board vice chairman Ray Gilmore declined to comment on the latest resolution.

Sammy Ahkeah is one of the Northern Agency representatives on the election board.

Ahkeah said in a telephone interview on Monday that the recent resolution is one of three changes the board approved regarding the referendum.

The election board members also clarified that if the referendum passed, it would apply to the 2018 presidential election and subsequent elections, Ahkeah said.

They further changed ballot language from "yes" and "no" to "for" and "against," he said.

Early walk-in voting at the election administration's five agency offices ends July 17.

Virginia Nelson, a voter registration specialist at the election administration office in Shiprock, said about 100 people have voted since early walk-in voting started June 22.

"It is slow," Nelson said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.