Guest Column | Why A recount?
Submitted by Ethel Branch, Dr. Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch, Greg Bigmanand Dineh Benally.
On Aug. 8, 10 of the 15 candidates for president in the 2022 Primary Election took the bold initiative to request a historic 110-chapter recount.
Despite potential criticism, the candidates took this step in response to their moral conscience and outcries from the Navajo people about concerns regarding early, absentee, and day-of election irregularities.
For example, never-received absentee ballots, the unannounced closure of early voting sites, the late opening of polling sites, and failure to provide accessibility to the polls for disabled voters.
Additionally, the candidates questioned the reliability of the Nation’s obsolete election machine technology and software, which is at least 26 years old and possibly over three decades old.
Recount elevates concerns
The recount began on Monday, Aug. 29, and lasted an entire week. During the recount, the candidates and their poll watchers observed numerous discrepancies.
For example, we discovered 44 unopened, uncounted early and absentee ballots for Becenti Chapter and 36 unopened, uncounted early and absentee ballots for Chilchinbeto Chapter.
This amounted to the near disenfranchisement of 13% of Becenti Chapter’s voting population, and 10% of Chilchinbeto Chapter’s.
The recount also revealed over a hundred missing ballots for Teesto Chapter. Yet, miraculously, those ballots reappeared by the end of the day.
There were numerous mismatches between machine counts and hand counts for 56 of the 104 chapters for which we were able to capture data on during the recount. This suggests issues with the machines either failing to read some ballots, or miscounting vote tallies.
This happened even though the recount was conducted on machines not owned by the Nation. For all but the last day, the recount was conducted on machines borrowed or leased by the Nation (this probably added to the cost of the recount).
Why would the Nation use machines other than the machines used during our elections? Did the board or staff not trust the results that the Nation’s machines would have produced? We and the Navajo people deserve an answer to this question.
We also learned just how insecure and widely varying the Nation’s ballot boxes are. Indeed, there isn’t such a thing as a Navajo Nation ballot box.
Instead, the chapters must produce their own ballot boxes. Some use homemade wooden toy box-like boxes. Others use soft-back suitcases.
There are also rampant inconsistencies in practices and knowledge among board members, Navajo Election Administration staff, poll judges and poll officials.
These are too numerous and lengthy to describe here, but we will do so in a future submission to this paper.
Overall, we are thankful that a recount of the Nation’s 110 chapter polling sites was approved and conducted. However, the extreme resistance and hostility shown to the candidates by the board and staff was both surprising and counterproductive.
We are all in this together, trying to ensure that the voice of the people is protected, and that the right of the people to express their choice of who will lead our Nation into the next four years is respected in an honest and fair election.
Recount is incomplete
At this point, we do not believe the recount is complete. Early and absentee ballots for the 10 largest chapters remain unaccounted for, and we have not had an opportunity to confirm that the number of ballots counted matches the number of individuals who voted in the 2022 Primary Election. Only the poll books can tell us this number.
Sadly, nothing can confirm whether the ballots counted during the recount are the ballots cast on election day because there is no way to track or verify that.
Every Navajo voice is sacred and every Navajo vote matters and should be counted and validated back to the voter. The recount should be properly completed to ensure that all early and absentee ballots were counted, and that only the ballots cast on election day are counted.
If 10% of voters for the 10 largest chapters are early and absentee voters, there may yet be over 1,000 unopened, uncounted early and absentee ballots sitting in the ballot boxes for those chapters.
Those voices matter and we must know whether those voices were heard in the election night tally. NBOES should thus grant our Sept. 6 formal request at their meeting today.
A revote is necessary
We now know that the discrepancies in the Navajo Nation 2022 Primary Election were significant and numerous.
The voices of many of our people who tried to participate in our election process were silenced by never-received absentee ballots, by unexpectedly closed early voting sites, and NEA’s failure to provide accommodations for disabled voters.
In order to ensure a fair and honest election that the Navajo people can have confidence in, we must have a revote.
This should occur with modern voting machine technology and a well-trained, neutral staff.
Additionally, ballot boxes should be secure and standardized, and any opening of the ballot boxes should be recorded by technology in the ballot box itself and be explained in a chain-of-custody log filled out by anyone accessing the box.
If you agree, please sign our Navajo Votes Matter petition at moveon.org and learn more about recount and revote efforts at Navajo Votes Matter on Facebook.