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Navajo Nation Supreme Court issues decision in election dispute

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

It looks like voters of the Navajo Nation will finally be able to choose a new leader sooner rather than later.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court on Friday struck down legislation that authorized an entirely new presidential election cycle. The decision means Joe Shirley Jr. will run against Russell Begaye as originally envisioned.

“Navajo law was upheld by the Supreme Court," Shirley said on Facebook in response to the ruling. "The people have had enough. Our nation is ready to heal from this division. Let the people vote and give them a legitimate ballot.”

Russell Begaye, left, and his running mate, Jonathan Nez. Photo from Facebook

"We know this has been a difficult process for many, and now is a time of healing," Begaye and Nez said on Facebook. "We humbly go forward in this election with a sincere desire to serve, a commitment to be active in responding to the needs of the Navajo people, and to be filled with optimism that many of our fellow citizens are ready for change."

The drama began when the tribe's highest court ordered the removal of Chris Deschene from the ballot because he is not fluent in the Navajo language as required by tribal law. The November 4, 2014, general election was postponed as a result.

The two remaining valid candidates -- Shirley, who received the most votes in the tribe's primary last year, and third-place finisher Begaye -- thought they were going to face off in a rescheduled vote. But the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors never scheduled it.

In the meantime, the Navajo Nation Council passed a bill that would have forced Shelly and Begaye to compete yet again for their spots on the ballot. The legislation called for a June 2 primary and an August 4 general election.

The delay brought a sharp rebuke from the tribe's highest court. "Because of the self-interested actions of the board and the council to disregard Navajo laws, the presidential election is now more than three months late," the decision stated.

The court ordered election officials to schedule the match-up between Shirley and Begaye "as soon as possible and without further delay." So it looks a vote could occur before the date that the council had proposed in the invalidated legislation.

Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, however, doesn't believe the matter has been settled. He said lawmakers intend to "review" the court's decision.

"As the policy-makers of our nation, I implore our legislative body to continue to address the 'gray areas' of our laws and to continue to be a voice for the people," Bates said in a press release. "It will be the decision of the 23rd Navajo Nation Council to address these issues."

President Ben Shelly has remained in office as a result of the delay in choosing a new leader. He came in seventh in last year's primary but was sworn into a new term last month.

Get the Story:
Navajo Nation Supreme Court orders presidential election between Shirley and Begaye (The Farmington Daily Times 2/21)
Navajo court rejects new primary presidential election (AP 2/20)

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Tsosie v. Navajo Board of Election Supervisors (February 20, 2015)

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