Court challenges have turned the election for president of the Navajo Nation on its head – and they’re not over yet.
Indian Country Today Media Network reports that the Navajo Supreme Court has – four days before the scheduled election – ordered one candidate stricken from the ballot and postponed the vote.
The move cost Chris Deschene, who finished second to Joe Shirley Jr. out of 17 candidates in the August primary, a chance at the office. Deschene declined to take a test showing he could speak and understand Navajo, saying it was unfair and unprecedented, and that it targeted him specifically.
Navajo election law requires presidential candidates to speak fluent English and Navajo.
Russell Begaye, who finished third in the primary, will challenge Shirley instead.
“I’m back in the race under unfortunate circumstances,” (Begaye) said during a phone interview. “People have distrust in the system, they feel they weren’t respected, so I need to provide a degree of hope.”
With Deschene officially out of the race, Begaye inherits a fair amount of animosity and disappointment, he said. While he campaigned vigorously before the primary election, he said now he wants to see more of a grassroots crusade rise up on his behalf.
“I think the huge majority of people have already made up their minds,” he said. “Most people already know who they’re going to vote for, so I don’t need to go into a full-scale campaign.”
ICTMN’s Alysa Landry reported the decision isn’t the end of legal battles over the election. On Oct. 31, the same day the Supreme Court postponed the election – likely until December – and disqualified Deschene, another primary candidate filed a 162-page motion to disqualify Begaye “because of his involvement as a stakeholder with the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company.”
The Office of Hearings and Appeals is slated to take up that case on Nov. 13.
Begaye, of Shiprock, New Mexico, named Jonathan Nez as his running mate. Nez was re-elected to the Tribal Council and would have to resign that seat if he is elected vice president.