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WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Voters on the Navajo Nation passed a referendum to amend the language qualifications for the tribal president and vice president on Tuesday.

The referendum amends the qualifications for two of the tribe's top offices by having a candidate's ability to speak and understand Navajo and English be determined by voters when they cast their ballots.

The unofficial results show that 13,017 ballots were cast in favor of the referendum, and 11,778 ballots were cast against the measure.

Bertha Nez Tsosie, of Tuba City, Ariz., was among the people who praised the passage of the referendum.

"I couldn't be happier in my heart and in my mind. We needed this change to take place," Tsosie said.

Tsosie was among a group who watched the unofficial results from the 110 chapter precincts being reported Tuesday evening at the Navajo Nation Museum here.

Also in attendance was Tsosie's cousin, Helena Jean Hale, of Window Rock, Ariz., who advocated for the referendum to pass.

"Now it's been done, I am so happy," Hale said.

The unofficial results were steadily reported throughout the evening as people continued to enter the museum's auditorium.

The sound of telephones ringing was heard from behind a large screen that displayed the results as election workers received the numbers from the chapter precincts. The results came in steadily until after 8:15 p.m., when the numbers from Tohatchi Chapter and Ganado Chapter in Arizona were pending.

Edison Wauneka, executive director of the Navajo Election Administration, said the results will remain unofficial until the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors certifies the results on Aug. 6.

Wauneka said the election went smoothly, and the unofficial results include ballots that were submitted during early walk-in voting, which started June 22 and ended on July 17. He added that ballots received by mail by 5 p.m. Tuesday would be counted, so the numbers could change.

The election administration reported that voter participation was 21 percent nationwide.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 7 p.m. Activity at the Sheep Springs and Newcomb chapter houses was slow Tuesday morning. Sadie Dez, chief poll judge at Sheep Springs, said 19 ballots had been cast in the election as of 8:14 a.m. Dez said voting activity usually increases during lunch time and when people get off from work.

The chapter received seven absentee ballots during the early voting process. Absentee ballots can be cast by either early walk-in voting at the election administration's five agency offices or by mail.

Sheep Springs resident Jasper Miller walked away from the chapter house after voting. Miller said he voted against the referendum, citing the need to have the president and vice president must speak and understand Navajo.

"We can't lose it. Its part of us," Miller said about the language.

He added, "They tried to change our language in boarding school, but it didn't work. We still have it."

Voter activity was quiet at the Newcomb Chapter house where seven ballots had been cast as of 9:05 a.m., according to a polling official.

The chapter received nine absentee ballots.

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.

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