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Navajo presidential election in limbo

Tribe’s high court asked to hold election officials in contempt

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Navajo Nation election officials are being challenged for not immediately removing a presidential candidate disqualified over a language fluency requirement from the ballot.

The tribe’s high court issued an order last week for Chris Deschene’s name to be taken off the ballot and said the ballots must immediately be reprinted.

The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors met Monday but did not take action on the order, saying questions remain on how to implement the high court’s ruling.

The board’s inaction prompted attorneys for two men who challenged Deschene’s candidacy to ask the tribe’s Supreme Court to hold election officials in contempt.

“We gave them a few days to do the right thing, and they didn’t do it,” said David Jordan, who represents Dale Tsosie, one of Deschene’s challengers in the primary election. “We’re just not going to wait anymore for them to do the right thing. We’re running out of time.”

The tribe’s presidential election is scheduled for Nov. 4, but the Supreme Court justices have said it must be postponed to ensure a valid election.

The board’s attorney, Levon Henry, declined to comment specifically on the latest motion filed to the Supreme Court. He said the board wants more information on what would become of the votes cast in the presidential election and the process of moving another vice presidential candidate onto the ballot. The board has asked the tribe’s attorney general to weigh in before Friday.

About 8,000 absentee and early ballots already have been cast in the general election, said Kimmeth Yazzie of the Navajo Election Administration. Deschene came in second in the tribe’s primary election in August to former two-term President Joe Shirley Jr.

Deschene is resting his hopes for staying in the race on a bill passed by the Navajo Nation Council early Friday that lets Navajo voters decide which candidates seeking the tribe’s top elected post are proficient in the Navajo language, said Deschene spokeswoman Stacy Pearson. The bill would apply retroactively to the 2014 election.

Navajo President Ben Shelly was briefed on the legislation Monday but did not decide whether to sign or veto it, said Shelly spokesman Deswood Tome.

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