Tribal court orders April election for Navajo president

AP News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 10:37 PM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation's high court ordered the tribe Friday to hold a long overdue presidential contest without further delay.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court issued an order that calls for a special election to take place as scheduled on April 21. The court also ordered that the tribe immediately transfer $317,000 to Navajo election officials to cover costs for the election between candidates Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye.

"Now we have a real day to look at to campaign," Shirley said. "To tell you the truth, I feel we've finally turned a corner."

The election date had become uncertain after President Ben Shelly signed a bill Monday prioritizing election funding. The bill gives first priority to a referendum vote on language requirements for the tribe's top two posts.

The bill's sponsor, Leonard Tsosie, has said the high court should respect the lawmakers' decision, and no election should be scheduled without the available funds.

But attorneys David Jordan and Justin Jones filed a motion Wednesday asking the court to ensure the April 21 vote occurs and prohibit lawmakers from interfering.

In their opinion, the tribal court also granted a request to shield the Navajo Election Administration director against any retaliatory action for following court orders. Director Edison Wauneka will be instructed to hire election personnel and give the special election top priority.

The presidential contest for the nation's largest American Indian reservation was supposed to take place Nov. 4, 2014. But after a candidate was disqualified for not demonstrating fluency in the Navajo language, the race was thrown into disarray.

Since then, the matter has been tied up in court proceedings involving the Navajo Nation Council, election officials and even candidates who lost in the primary election. The court last month accused the council of political maneuvering when it rejected legislation that would have allowed a primary election do-over.

LoRenzo Bates, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, declined comment on the tribal Supreme Court's ruling, citing the shooting death of a Navajo Nation police officer Thursday night on the Arizona-New Mexico border.