Election officials expect good voting turnout, still addressing vacant positions

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, November 1, 2012

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N avajo tribal election officials are expecting a good turnout Tuesday when the tribe holds its general election for chapter and school board positions.

More than 700 positions throughout the Navajo Reservation will be up for grabs in the election.

Edison Wauneka, director of the Navajo Nation Election Office, said he expects at least half and possibly as many as 60 percent of the 125,900-plus tribal members who are registered to vote will cast their ballots on or before Tuesday.

"We always have a better turnout in the general election than in the primary," he said, adding that one of the draws is the election for the U.S. President's seat, which will be held the same day.

"We will get fifty percent plus without question," he said.

Unlike in the primary, where few races were contested, most of the races in the general election will be contested.

The election polls will open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and go through 7 p.m. Anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Early voting will continue at the various election offices until 5 p.m. Friday and the election office will continue to accept absentee ballots up until 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

There will, however, be 51 races, mostly school board, which will have no one running and Wauneka said this will have to be addressed after Tuesday's election.

This has been an ongoing problem and the election office in the past has tried to solve it by having appointments made in those races where no one has signed up to run.

But Wauneka said this approach has come under severe criticism from those who feel that elected positions are for those who are elected and not appointed. The policy now is that appointments are made only if the positions are vacant in its third or fourth year.

While everything is on schedule for Tuesday's general election, there is a cloud over the question on how much the election office will be able to pay its poll judges at each of the chapters.

In the past four election, poll judges received $120 for working for the day but this was done by getting approval to up the normal rate of $65 a day to the higher sum. So far this year, the tribe has not approved that higher sum and the election office may only be able to pay the $65 fee.

"That's not fair," said Wauneka, pointing out that the average judge has to put in as many as 15 hours that day, coming in at 5 a.m. to prepare for the voting and then staying for at least an hour or two after the polls close and then drive the ballot boxes to the agency headquarters.

At $65, that would give the average poll judge a little more than $4 an hour, which is significantly lower than the $7.50 federal minimum wage. Even at $120, that comes out to just under $8 an hour.

Wauneka said that having to pay the poll judges $65 a day could result in complaints to the Office of Navajo Labor Relations.

Wauneka said he is making an effort to get tribal officials to approve the higher pay but if that fails, he is considering asking the chapters to chip in some of their funds to give the poll judges a decent wage.

He also pointed out that people who work as poll judges for the off-reservation county and city precincts are paid more than $100. Further, if it comes to that situation where the tribal election office finds itself paying only $65, the tribe will have a hard time finding enough tribal members who would be willing to work for the lower pay.

The election office is also trying to get the tribal government to approve supplemental funding for the election office to pay the cost of the ballots for the primary. The office still owed $116,000 when this fiscal year began and paid it off with funds from this year's budget.

That means, said Wauneka, that the office now only has enough funds to continue operating through March.

The supplemental request has already been approved by the Council's Budget and Finance and Nabiki'yati' Committees and Wauneka said efforts are being made to have a special session of the council called to address this problem as soon as possible.

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