Absentee, ‘challenge’ votes not yet counted
The morning after Tuesday’s primary election, the Navajo Times was surprised to learn from Navajo Election Administration Director Rosita Kelly that election results shared by her office with the public on www.electionpeople.com/navajoshow2022 were not final.
“We are not releasing any election results until all challenged votes and absentee ballots results have been counted,” she said.
At first, Kelly would not answer the question as to whether the results posted on electionpeople.com, which is how most voters followed the primary election on Tuesday night, were valid and publishable.
The Sports Center at the Window Rock fairgrounds, where voters traditionally gather in person to follow election results on election day, was closed to the public, including candidates, due to COVID-19.
Kelly explained that some primary election absentee ballots came in late and still needed to be counted by hand along with the challenge votes.
“Challenged votes mean when voters come to the polls and are not listed in the poll books, they can still request a challenge vote ballot, which are not fed into the machine and are set aside and hand counted when the election staff verifies they are voters…” Kelly explained.
Reached by telephone at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Delegate Carl Slater said, “I wish that they would post information in a timely matter, with the results on one page that are easily digestible by our people instead of the weird, rotating results that flash and move on to someone else.”
Slater was referring results for Navajo Nation Council delegates.
He said in past primary elections, each delegate race was documented separately in an easily readable spreadsheet with total voter turnout and results broken down by chapter.
“I don’t know why they’re not doing that here,” he said.
As reported last week by Navajo Times reporter Hannah John, Council recently approved $3 million from the UUFB during July’s summer session for the election office to cover 2022 costs since Kelly has been outspoken about being short-staffed and in need for technology upgrades.
The election office is under the legislative branch, but Kelly is a Navajo Nation employee who reports directly to the chairman of the Navajo Nation Board of Election Supervisors, Melvin Harrison, according to Alray Nelson, communications director for the speaker’s office.
The speaker’s office does not have any supervisory purview over election office employees, he said, which is partially to ensure there is no conflict of interest.
“They are independent under the Navajo Nation’s plan of operation for the Election Administration,” said Nelson. “It clearly states that the people who oversee the Election Administration are the Board of Election Supervisors who are elected by the Navajo people.”
Nelson confirmed that the speaker’s office also was not aware of the absentee ballots and challenge votes still needing to be counted to determine final results.
He added that other delegates were also expressing concern over the status and transparency of the vote counts.
However, at exactly 10 a.m., Navajo Times’ Wednesday deadline, through the help of Nelson, the Navajo Times finally received a hard-copy update of the “unofficial” election results, as of Aug. 3.
Kelly confirmed that these were “valid and publishable” with the caveat that final election results will be available at a later date.
The “unofficial” delegate primary election results, broken down by chapter, are printed in this week’s issue.
Kelly told Navajo Times that “official” results for the primary election will be determined “after” Aug. 12.
“There’s a 10-day period after an election for grievance,” she said. “Results become official after the 10th day following an election, provided there are no grievances.”