Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Democratic candidate previously running for the county commission in San Juan County, Utah, has been declared ineligible to run because he allegedly doesn’t live in the county.
Grayeyes says he has lived in the county for 50 years and has been registered to vote in the county for at least 34 years. He intends to present a lawsuit challenging Utah’s San Juan County’s decision.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, officials of Republican-controlled San Juan County said they had “clear and convincing evidence” to boot the Democratic Navajo candidate from the November ballot. They also said he’s not a Utah resident and isn’t qualified to run for the open commission seat for which he won the nomination and that the determination had nothing to do with race.
Grayeyes refutes all of the points and says there is no evidence to remove him. He says he is a Utah resident. Grayeyes is accusing the decision-makers of launching a racially and politically motivated attack.
“San Juan County has long denied the right of Native Americans to fully participate in the election process,” said Grayeyes’ attorney, Steven Boos to the Tribune.
The decision to remove Grayeyes has occurred after party redistricting efforts ordered by a federal court judge in Utah in December reverse the historic political domination by non-Native candidates.
According to the Tribune’s Courtney Tanner, “The redrawn districts give Navajos, who tend to affiliate as Democrats, a significant majority of voters in two of three commission districts and three of five school board seats. Grayeyes, who won his party’s nomination for the commission race in March, was running in District 2 — which previously had an Anglo majority of voters and now, for the first time in three decades, has a Native American majority.It’s also the only commission race that will have a contest between a Democrat and a Republican.”
Back in April, Grayeyes told the Tribune his concerns about being labeled as a non-Utah resident. Even though State Elections Director Justin Lee confirmed that Grayeyes has participated in every general election there since 1992, except 1996, he was still removed from the campaign.
The county’s Democratic Chairman James Adakai also added that Grayeyes registered to vote in 1984 and has run for office before without a similar complaint being brought up.
When a complaint was brought up in his most recent bid, Grayeyes submitted to the county a satellite image of his house on the Navajo Nation reservation within Utah’s borders, a record of his voter registration, a copy of his 1946 birth certificate and a document showing his cattle ranching operations in the region.
San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson wrote in a letter to Grayeyes that it was not enough. A sheriff’s deputy, said Nielson, visited the property and claimed no one answered the door, and the dirt driveway did not appear to have recent tire tracks or footprints.
Neighbors said Grayeyes often stayed in Tuba City, Arizona. Though Nielson acknowledged no one was home when the deputy visited Grayeyes alleged Tuba City home, Grayeyes was kicked from the ballot and his voter registration was voided.
Grayeyes has been a member of the Utah Navajo Commission for years, which requires state residency and he says he has lived in his Utah home for over twenty years.
The suit filed by Grayeyes lists San Juan’s clerk and attorney, the sheriff’s deputy and the woman who filed the original complainant against the candidate, as defendants.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling