A federal judge has ruled that San Juan County officials in Utah improperly removed Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Democratic candidate, from the County Commission. According to Grayeyes’ attorney, Steven Boos, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer restored Greyeye’s voting rights and ordered his name back onto the November ballot.
The judge sided with Grayeyes Tuesday after the candidate filed a lawsuit against the county that disqualified him.
Officials of Republican-controlled San Juan County claimed they had “clear and convincing evidence” to remove Grayeyes from the November ballot, saying he was not a Utah resident and that he wasn’t qualified to run for the commission.
Back in April, Grayeyes told The Salt Lake Tribune his concerns about being labeled a non-Utah resident, even though State Elections Director Justin Lee had confirmed that Grayeyes had participated in every general election since 1992, except 1996, yet he was still removed from the campaign.
Though Lee confirmed the residency of Grayeyes, he was removed from the ballot by County Clerk John David Nielson, who declared he did not live in Utah.
Navajo Nation officials condemned Nielson’s handling of an investigation into Grayeyes’ residency in The Salt Lake Tribune.
"It appears that Mr. Nielson backdated official county documents in an attempt to strip Willie Grayeyes of his candidacy. It’s clear that Nielson made egregious, if not purposeful, errors in disqualifying Mr. Willie Grayeyes as a candidate,” Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, said in the Tribune.
The election in November will be the first since another federal judge redrew the county’s voting districts. The new boundaries give members of the Navajo Nation a significant majority of voters in two of three commission districts and three of five school board seats.
“He’s glad to get past this part of it because he would like to help guide the county in a direction where the county is solving problems for all the citizens of the county,” Boos told The Salt Lake Tribune.
In addition to Grayeyes’ return to the ballot, the county recently announced the victory of Kenneth Maryboy over incumbent Rebecca Benally for the commission seat typically held by a tribal member.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling