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Navajo Nation voters elect Jonathan Nez tribal president

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation presidential candidate Jonathan Nez arrives at his campaign watch party on Tuesday night in Window Rock, Ariz. Nez was elected by a comfortable margin.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Voters on the Navajo Nation overwhelmingly supported Vice President Jonathan Nez and his running mate, Myron Lizer, for the tribal presidency and vice presidency today.

As of 10:30 p.m., Nez and Lizer had 39,290 votes, followed by former president Joe Shirley Jr. and his running mate, Buu Nygren, with 19,799 votes, according to unofficial results reported by 108 out of 110 chapter precincts to the Navajo Election Administration.

Shirley and Nygren were unable to dent the large deficit at any point.

"It feels great. I see that the Navajo people have spoken — overwhelmingly — for change, and that's what this campaign is all about," Nez said. "I think after tonight, I ask for all of us to come back together as one Navajo family and start tackling the issues that we heard throughout the Navajo Nation."

Joe Shirley Jr. receives a hug from a supporter after losing his bid for the Navajo Nation presidency on Tuesday in Window Rock, Ariz.

The mood at the party for the Shirley-Nygren campaign at Nakai Hall began as celebratory, then turned somber as the unofficial results were reported.

"What can I say — the numbers are what they are," Shirley said. "I'm sorry the numbers aren't the other way. But I feel like we didn't lose. We gave it a good shot. It is what it is."

Earlier in the day, voter turnout at the Shiprock Chapter remained steady as chapter members, like others in the 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation, cast ballots to decide the presidential race and other offices.

Shiprock resident Marenda Yazzie finishes decorating the campaign stand for Navajo Nation presidential candidate Joe Shirley Jr. and vice president candidate Buu Nygren on Tuesday.

While chapter members voted in the chapter house, others visited campaign stands for Nez and Shirley, and for Eugenia Charles-Newton and Vern R. Lee, both of whom are candidates to represent Shiprock on the Navajo Nation Council.

The chapter's current delegate, Tom Chee, was a presidential candidate in the primary election, finishing third.

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Tuesday was the first time Aguilera Toney had voted, and he decided to support Shirley and his running mate, Buu Nygren, because the pair have been focusing on Navajo young people.

"I believe that they'll be the change us youth need," the 18-year-old said while working at the Shirley-Nygren campaign operation.

Election Day activity on the Navajo Nation includes candidates providing food to voters.

Toney said he thinks young Navajos will benefit from Nygren's professional experience.

"Schools across the Navajo Nation lack technology, like computers and tablets, and I believe that Buu will bring that to the Navajo Nation because he knows a lot about technology," he said.

He added that he could not support Nez because he views the vice president as not having finished his work in that capacity before seeking the presidency.

"Growing up, I was taught finish what you started," Toney said.

Vergil Nakai carefully shaped a handful of dough while cooking frybread at the stand for Charles-Newton. Nakai voted for Nez and his running mate, Myron Lizer, at the Red Valley Chapter house in Arizona before driving to Shiprock.

"Well, we need communication, and we need to change," Nakai said about his choice.

Shiprock Chapter voters wait on Tuesday to receive bananas, oranges and apples from the campaign stand for Navajo Nation presidential candidate Jonathan Nez and vice president candidate Myron Lizer.

The issues of job creation and opportunity weighed on Nakai's mind, especially when he talked about his son seeking employment in Alaska.

"There's no job around here. I wish the Navajo Nation had good jobs," Nakai said.

He views Nez as a leader who will change the tribe, including developing and executing ideas that will attract employment.

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Voters like Thelma Levaldo said the election provides time to complete a civic duty and to visit with community members.

"I came out to vote so I can make a difference," the Shiprock resident said.

Levaldo, along with her mother and brother, brought donations of coffee, soda, water and doughnuts to the stand for Lee.

Vern R. Lee, a candidate for the Shiprock Chapter seat on the Navajo Nation Council, visits with voters on Tuesday.

She said she voted for Shirley and Nygren because they serve as an example of members of two different generations working together.

She also remembers the Shirley administration bringing important initiatives to the Navajo Nation, including a cellular phone program that helped her.

Voters leave the Shiprock Chapter house after casting ballots in the Navajo Nation general election on Tuesday.

"At that time, I didn't have any income, but people with low income were approved for a free phone. They called it 'the Joe Shirley phone,' and I remember that assistance helped me get a phone," Levaldo said.

Progress like that is needed today, she added.

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.