KEAMS CANYON - The Hopi Tribal Court released its Judgment Order in the case of Sekayumptewa, Johnson, Poleahla, Qotsaquahu and Koruh (Petitioners) vs. the Hopi Election Board (Respondent), remanding the matter back to the Election Board.
The primary question(s) in the case revolved around the Hopi Election Board's certification of Benjamin Nuvamsa as a candidate for Chairman of the Hopi Tribe. Nuvamsa won in the General Election, running against Harry Nutumya.
The Petitioners complained that candidate Nuvamsa did not meet the residency requirement in the Tribe's Constitution and that the Election Board should not have certified him.
They asked the Court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter of Nuvamsa's residency and to vacate the certification of Nuvamsa as a candidate.
If the Court had ruled in favor of the petitioners, this could have potentially caused the Election Board to nullify the election. As the Election Board is delegated all authority relevant to conducting elections, it has the sole authority to do this.
After the election and after swearing Nuvamsa into office, the Tribal Council passed a resolution nullifying the election. This nullification was later ruled illegal and unconstitutional by the Tribal Court. The case against the Election Board was pending.
In the case against the Election Board, both the petitioners and the Hopi Tribe filed motions for Summary Judgment which would have meant the Court would rule without a hearing.
The Election Board's decision was challenged several times before the court case was filed.Each time the board reaffirmed its earlier decision. On two occasions, the question of Nuvamsa's certification was discussed in Council and each time it was referred back to the Election Board and Council voted to proceed with the election.
The Election Board was purposefully established under the Ordinance 34, The Hopi Tribal Election Ordinance, "...as an independent and separate entity from other governmental offices...for the purposes of conducting fair and impartial elections..." free from interference or undue influence.
In the recent Judgment, the Court denied both the petitioner's and the tribe's motions for Summary Judgment and ordered "that this matter is remanded to the Election Board for further action consistent with this opinion...."
Affirming the Election Board's sole authority in election matters, the Court said, "...it is the job of this Court to review the decisions of the Election Board, not decide matters for them."
It went on to say, "...the Court does not find it appropriate to hold an evidentiary hearing on the residency of Nuvamsa as Petitioners want. Nor does the Court find it appropriate at this time to automatically vacate the certification of a candidate who ultimately won the General Election if it cannot say for certain he did not meet the residency requirements either."
Further acknowledging the Election Board's authority in election matters, the Judgment also states, "Therefore, the Court finds that [the] only appropriate remedy is to return this matter to the Election Board for further consideration."
The Office of the Chairman anticipates that the Election Board will comply with the Court's direction to review its initial certification and will determine that it was properly persuaded, consistent with its procedures, that Nuvamsa qualified as a candidate for Chairman of the Hopi Tribe and that the Board's original certification of Nuvamsa was appropriate.