Court: Navajo presidential election cannot be held Tuesday

AP News
Posted: Apr 17, 2015 8:57 PM

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Navajo Nation judge has ruled that election officials cannot move forward with Tuesday's belated presidential contest, but the decision is likely to be appealed.

Window Rock District Judge Carol Perry's ruling Friday centers on a bill tribal lawmakers passed earlier this year to fund a referendum that essentially would eliminate the Navajo-language fluency requirement for the tribe's top two posts. Perry said she knows Navajo voters and the presidential candidates have been affected greatly by a widespread debate over the role the tribe's language plays in politics and culture. But she said the bill is clear that the referendum must be held before Navajos choose their next leader.

"The logic in determining the qualifications of candidates first and thereafter holding an election is not only sensible, but it is the law," she wrote.

Calls to election officials went unanswered late Friday. Their attorney, Michael Upshaw, declined comment. They had argued against postponing the presidential contest, saying it would be too costly. Perry's order puts them in a difficult position because they are under order by the tribe's Supreme Court to hold the presidential contest as scheduled Tuesday.

A challenge to the qualifications of onetime presidential hopeful Chris Deschene sparked a series of legal battles that pushed the presidential contest beyond Nov. 4. Deschene was disqualified for failing to prove he could speak fluent Navajo. Attorneys for two of his opponents in the primary election repeatedly have sought relief from the tribe's high court to enforce an order for an election between Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye.

The Supreme Court justices called the passage of the bill to fund a referendum vote ahead of a presidential contest "political maneuvering" on the part of the Navajo Nation Council and said the public has the right to an expeditious presidential election.

Wallace Charley, a former elections supervisor who was removed from his post for failing to take Deschene off the ballot, said Friday that he's grateful Perry sided with him and other petitioners.

"This is great. But I think it's going to have a short life," he said. "But we'll see."