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Navajo Nation postpones presidential vote as legal drama ends

Joe Shirley Jr., right, and his running mate, Dineh Benally. Photo from Twitter

Voters of the Navajo Nation will go to the polls tomorrow but they won't be choosing a president as originally planned.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court held the supervisors for the Navajo Board of Election in contempt on Friday after they refused to remove Chris Deschene from the ballot. He was disqualified because he is not fluent in the Navajo language as required under tribal law.

Tribal members can still go the polls to choose other positions on the reservation. But the presidential vote will take place at a later date.

"Although the position of the Navajo Nation Presidential Candidates will be on the election ballot, the Navajo Election Administration will not tally the results for this particular position per the Supreme Court order," the Navajo Election Administration said in a statement.

Joe Shirley Jr., a former president who speaks Navajo fluently, came in first in the tribe's primary in August. He will remain on the ballot.

Deschene came in second but since he will be removed, Russell Begaye will appear instead. Begaye had the third highest number of votes in the primary.

Deschene's struggle to remain on the ballot drew national and international attention. He admitted he wasn't as proficient in the Navajo language as he'd like to be but he argued that tribal voters should get to decide who will lead them.

"This ruling could have a chilling effect on the future of our elections. It sends a dangerous message that your vote doesn’t count," Deschene said on Facebook following the Supreme Court's ruling on Friday.

Deschene was ordered to pay $6,130.83 in legal fees to the two failed presidential candidates who challenged his candidacy.

Get the Story:
Navajo elections director agrees to postpone race (AP 10/31)
Navajo presidential election postponed, board in contempt (The Arizona Republic 11/1)
Navajo Nation election is still on for Tuesday, but without presidential race (The Farmington Daily Times 11/1)
Early voting ending for Navajo Nation general election (The Farmington Daily Times 11/1)

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Tsosie v. Deschene (October 23, 2014)

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Order:
Tsosie v. Deschene (October 22, 2014)

Earlier Navajo Nation Supreme Court Order:
Tsosie v. Deschene (September 26, 2014)

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