Navajo Nation voters will narrow the field of 18 presidential candidates today. It's the largest primary election in the tribe’s history. There are 110 polling locations spread across the 27,000-square mile nation. Navajo citizens in the Arizona portion can also cast votes in the state primary held on the same day.
This election is already confusing to some voters. The Navajo Election Board purged voters who did not participate in 2014 and 2016, as required by law, according to the Navajo Times in February. All registered non-voters were sent pink postcards and had to return them by December 29, 2017. A total of 52,425 registrations were canceled, said the Navajo Election Administration.
Another issue that will be decided on this ballot is about how much salary will be paid to tribal officials.
Currently, the president makes $55,000 a year the vice president earns $45,000. EJ John, policy analyst of the Office of Navajo Government Development, said the cost of living has not be adjusted since the positions were established in 1989. (Around the same time, the Navajo Nation reorganized their government to the three-branch system.)
The proposed range is $70,000 to $102,000.
Four years ago election officials removed a candidate from the ballot because there was concern about his Navajo fluency. Chris Deschene won the primary but was removed a week before the general election.
“There is no easy way to share that I will not be filing for the presidency of the Navajo Nation during this election year,” Deschene said in a statement.
One issue in this election is the state of the nation’s economy. The Navajo Generating Station in Page is scheduled to close. Some of the candidates are promising to preserve the jobs at the plant while others argue this is the time to shift to renewable energy and create new jobs.
The candidates have had five forums this summer, answering questions on economic development, education, creating jobs, the Gold King Mine spill, community development, Navajo language, and government reorganization.
The 18 candidates include: Benny Bahe, incumbent Russell Begaye, Tom Chee, Jonathan Nez, Calvin Lee, Jr., Joe Shirley, Jr., Vincent H. Yazzie, Rex Lee Jim, Norman Patrick Brown, Trudie Jackson, Shawn Redd, Alton Joe Shepherd, Emily Ellison, Tom Tso, Kevin Cody, Hope MacDonald Lonetree, Nick X. Taylor, and Dineh Benally.
To learn more about the 18 candidates, listen to the Wósdéé Podcast on Soundcloud, wósdéé meaning “come in.” In the podcast episode “Tlo'chi'iin Episode 2: Navajo Nation Presidential Candidate Round Up,” Majerle Lister and Dr. Andrew Curley, both Diné, analyze the presidential candidates from their answers at the forums, to their behavior, and their current or past offices held. Lister graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy, and is now a research assistant with Diné College on the Navajo Nation. Dr. Curley is an assistant professor in the geography department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Community members expressed their opinions and concerns on social media.
Voter registration for the general election reopens on September 10. The last day to register is October 8. Registrants must be 18 years old and need to bring a Certificate of Indian Blood, a driver’s license or Navajo Nation ID, and a social security card. Voters can register at their local chapters or at one of the five Navajo Nation Election Offices.
For the general election, absentee voting begins on October 8 and ballots must physically received by the Navajo Election Administration office before October 22.
The in-person poll is November 6.