Navajo election board supervisors table ballot language

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors voted to table a resolution approving the ballot language for a referendum on the election of judges and justices and other amendments to the Navajo Nation Code concerning the Judicial Branch until there is funding for public education.

The Board voted 5-2 to table the resolution. The Navajo Nation Council, during its summer session, had approved for a referendum to be voted on in the Nov. 2 general election.

At the meeting on Aug. 12, the Office of Legislative Counsel presented ballot language, which was taken from the resolution that approved for the referendum to take place. The Department of Justice also presented its recommendations to the ballot language, which consisted of adding language to the "Brief Statement of Legal Effect" section stating that all judges and justices shall retire no later than Jan. 14, 2013.

The Judicial Branch presented its concerns to the board on the ballot language. The Branch expressed its concern that the referendum the people are being asked to vote on is not simply a "yes" or "no" vote on whether the judges and justices should be elected. The Branch informed the board that the language leaves out information on further amendments that would be enacted with the passage of the referendum.

For instance, the salary of judges and justices would be set in the Navajo Nation Code and would require approval by the Navajo Nation Council and 2/3 of the 110 Navajo Nation Chapters to change. The Council's Judiciary Committee would give the oath of office to the Supreme Court justices.

Requirements of knowledge of the Navajo culture and traditions would be eliminated and a new requirement that Supreme Court justices be state-licensed would be enacted. These requirements would result in a court more oriented toward Western philosophy than Diné philosophy.

The position of the Judicial Branch is that the Navajo people need to know the effects of what they are being asked to vote on and that the proposed ballot language does not explain the substance of the proposed changes to the law. It is clearly not enough to attach the 35-page legislation and expect the Navajo people to comprehend the amendments in their entirety.

While Council delegates and other tribal officials have had lawyers to explain these concepts, most Navajo people will not have lawyers with them when they go to the polls.

The Branch is concerned that if there is no additional education provided to the Navajo public between now and November, the proposed ballot language would be obviously misleading.

One election supervisor said she has an 80-year-old mother and asked who would be the one to explain the amendments to her line by line.

In a May 11, 2010 press release, it states, "The Navajo Nation Council would provide the Navajo Elections (sic) Administration with funds for public education through the media, documents to disseminate and public hearings regarding the referendum." However, there was no funding attached to the legislation for the referendum when it was approved by the Council in July. Edison Wauneka, director of the Navajo Election Administration, said that based on previous costs of such ballot questions, it would cost more than $100,000 to provide public education.

According to Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code, it states that the purpose of the Board of Election Supervisors is to provide for "fair, unbiased and untainted elections."

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