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Election board grants Primary Election recount

Election board grants Primary Election recount

WINDOW ROCK

A request for a recount of the Aug. 2 Primary Election has been granted.

On Tuesday, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors told candidates for president Ethel Branch, Roseanna Jumbo-Fitch, Emily Ellison and Dineh Benally that they heard their concerns, took them to heart and scheduled the recount from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2.

The board chair, Melvin Harrison, said on Tuesday during a special meeting that the recount would be by hand and by machine.

He said Automated Election Services from Albuquerque will work with tribal election officials and would recount votes at all 110 chapters.

But when Branch, who finished fourth with an unofficial vote total of 3,857, asked Harrison if the same voting machines that were used on election day would be used during the recount, he did not answer her question.

Fifteen candidates vied for the chance to become the next tribal president.

‘Where are the machines?’

One of the candidates, Dineh Benally from Shiprock, sent an email on June 3 to the election board and Navajo Election Administration executive director Rosita Kelly, requesting information on what type of election machines and software would be used for the Primary Election.

“Where are the machines located?” he wrote in his June 3 email.

Three days later, he wrote another email, saying he wanted a fair election for the Navajo people.

“We cannot just focus on getting signatures and sign people up for votes,” he said on June 6. “We need to implement a technology that gives voters confidence and security to vote. “Integrity, transparency and confidence are key in fair and free elections,” he said.

It is not known what types of voting machines were used on Aug. 2 and for early voting, but Benally shared a website – verifiedvoting.org – with the Navajo Times, in which it describes a voting machine called Optech IIIP-Eagle, which consists of two major parts: a ballot box and a head.

The ballot box, according to the website, is a secured container made of three compartments, for the ballots the machine has counted. One of the compartments holds the ballots that were not scanned by the machine.

After the polls close, the ballots in the compartment are re-scanned by an election official.

The two other compartments help separate the ballots where one compartment is used to hand-inspect the tallies.

In Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, hand-marked paper ballots are used, which are then fed into a voting machine like the Optech IIIP-Eagle. The tribe also uses a hand-marked paper ballot.

Overall, there are nine different voting systems. The type of system the tribe used in the 2022 Primary Election is the optical scanner, which scans the hand-marked paper ballot.

While a hand-marked paper ballot, combined with an optical scanning system, seems to provide a secure method of voting, is not perfect.

An optical scanner voting machine, if left uncalibrated, could miscount or reject ballots.

Voting machines had issues

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Navajo Nation election workers gather vote counts on Primary Election night at the Window Rock Sports Center.

Harrison said on Aug. 2 that some voting machines used in the Primary Election had some issues.

“Some of the workers now are feeding ballots into machines that were deposited into emergency slots,” said Harrison at the Sports Center, formally Civic Center, in Window Rock on Aug. 2. “So, those are being fed into the machines.”

Harrison did not say how many machines or at which voting locations the issues occurred.

He did explain how the election officials at the Sports Center were tallying votes. Polling sites were calling in the tallied votes to the election workers, who then wrote down the unofficial vote count and shared them with KTNN and KGAK, which are both all-Navajo radio stations.

An election website was also created to help voters and candidates keep track.

Television-sized monitors were also arranged inside and outside the Sports Center that campaign managers could use to keep their teams updated, Harrison added.

“What happens is once the workers here, they get the results, they’ll tally it up, then it’s given to the radio station and they’re going to announce it on the radio and then it’s also going to be on the web,” he explained. “So, we already got one result that came in. I think it’s from Western, but I don’t know what chapter.”

Old machines

Candidate Branch, during the election board’s regular meeting on Aug. 11, said the voting machines were more than a “quarter century old.”

“These are pretty old machines,” said Branch. “We received no information about how those machines were tested for accuracy. I know for myself, personally, when I look at the election results, they don’t make sense to me in terms of the numbers for various chapters.

“And so,” she said, “I want to know that these numbers are actually accurate.”

Branch, along with Jumbo-Fitch and Ellison, also questioned if poll workers were properly trained.

Jumbo-Fitch told the election board that some poll workers did not show up for work and some were not available.

“So, we really like some transparency,” she said on Aug. 11. “First with the count, the poll workers and also the ballot recount.”

Ellison, who spoke with a cooler voice, told the election board that their intent was “not an adversarial move.”

“It’s a move to ensure the core of how we choose our leadership, and our democracy is intact,” she said on Aug. 11. “And I do understand the machines and the resources are available to that department is limited.

“So, I think there’s opportunities to improve and get some investments from the executive and legislative leadership,” she said. “We go forward, collectively, with positive intentions to build a system that we can all believe in.”

Grievances disqualified

Both Jumbo-Fitch and Ellison filed grievances with Office of Hearing and Appeals citing several alleged election violations.

Their grievances were disqualified, along with several other grievances filed in Council delegate candidate-related races.

Candidate Frankie Davis also filed a grievance but was also disqualified.

Candidate Greg Bigman also spoke on Aug. 11, and said he sent a representative to the Sports Center to check the latest vote count.

“He was not allowed to be present,” Bigman said. “Only President Nez, on Aug. 2, was permitted to be inside the Civic Center.”

Nez campaign spokesperson Jared Touchin said Nez never went inside the Sports Center on election night.

Touchin added that without any evidence to support the allegations, the rumor should not be posited.

Unofficially, of the 123,359 registered Navajo voters, 47,928, or 38.9%, cast ballots on Aug. 2. The Fort Defiance Agency unofficially had the most votes, followed by Eastern Agency, then Northern Agency.

Chinle Agency had the lowest voter turnout, despite having one of the higher voter participations at 41.8%.

Of the 10 election board members, Arbin Mitchell and Melvin Harrison, both from Fort Defiance Agency; Young Jeff Tom and Arlene Nakai Brown, both from Eastern Agency; Martha Saggboy, from Northern Agency; Shirlee A. Bedonie, from Western Agency; and Robert D. Jumbo and Jackie Y. Burbank, both from Chinle Agency, won’t be returning.

Mitchell, who is a paid staff member for the Nez administration, is running for a Council delegate seat held by Raymond Smith Jr., who came in third. Mitchell faces off against Lomardo Aseret in the General Election on Nov. 8.

First time for a recount

Harrison on Tuesday said the recount at all 110 chapters would be the first time “something of this magnitude” was going to be done.

He indicated Automated Election Services would be delivering the machines on “certain days,” and would be “taken back on certain days.”

Nahata Dziil Chapter resident and registered Navajo voter Lavonne Tsosie told Harrison and the seven other election board members in the special meeting she was concerned by their insistence to hold secret meetings, referring to the executive sessions the election supervisors opted for since the candidates began requesting a recount.

“This is our right to vote, and I feel like it’s being infringed upon, and I know in the past that these machines were supposed to have been calibrated and checked with several candidates in place,” said Tsosie.

“I don’t know if that has happened,” she said. “And there are a lot of discrepancies that are being reported by chapters. And I don’t appreciate how some of the poll officials are discounting it.”

Tsosie said she wanted reassurance from the election board that the recount was done accurately.

“With the board being transparent on everything that it is doing, I would recommend that someone from maybe each campaign, be there to make sure that these, that the count is being done,” she said.

Election board member Raymond Maxx, from Western Agency, said he appreciated that their feet were being held “to the fire.”

He quickly cautioned the candidates there was “no such thing as perfect.”

“I would mention to say that this plan will not satisfy everybody. We do what we can and hopefully accomplish. I hope you understand that,” said Maxx.


About The Author

Donovan Quintero

"Dii, Diné bi Naaltsoos wolyéhíígíí, ninaaltsoos át'é. Nihi cheii dóó nihi másání ádaaní: Nihi Diné Bizaad bił ninhi't'eelyá áádóó t'áá háadida nihizaad nihił ch'aawóle'lágo. Nihi bee haz'áanii at'é, nihisin at'é, nihi hózhǫ́ǫ́jí at'é, nihi 'ach'ą́ą́h naagééh at'é. Dilkǫǫho saad bee yájíłti', k'ídahoneezláo saad bee yájíłti', ą́ą́ chánahgo saad bee yájíłti', diits'a'go saad bee yájíłti', nabik'íyájíłti' baa yájíłti', bich'į' yájíłti', hach'į' yándaałti', diné k'ehgo bik'izhdiitįįh. This is the belief I do my best to follow when I am writing Diné-related stories and photographing our events, games and news. Ahxéhee', shik'éí dóó shidine'é." - Donovan Quintero is assistant editor of the Navajo Times, and an award-winning Diné journalist, who is based in Window Rock, Arizona. He can be contacted at dq@navajotimes.com.

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