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Election office trouble: Staff deals with old computers, lack of office space

WINDOW ROCK

With election season underway, Rosita Kelly, elections administration director, gave a report to the Naabik’íyáti Committee last Thursday regarding the 2022 Navajo Nation primary and general elections.

During the report, Kelly discussed voter outreach and funding shortfalls.

Registrars have been hired and trained in the Phoenix and Las Vegas areas so they are available to help people looking to register to vote. Registrars in other areas outside of the Navajo Nation where Diné people live have also been requested but lack of funding has restricted this.

“We have been requested from Salt Lake City, Denver, Tucson, but we just don’t have the funds to have the staff go out there to do voter registrar training,” Kelly said.

Despite this, the elections office has done registration drives in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Shiprock Chapter and other locations.

At the time of the meeting a week ago, Kelly said another drive was scheduled at the upcoming Navajo voter coalition conference that will take place on June 17.

“For people that live in other states or metropolitan areas, (the election offce) sends them voter registration applications,” Kelly said, “which they will fill out, and send back with the documents that we need to register them.”

The documents needed to register to vote are: Certificate of Indian Blood; driver’s license or state-issued ID or a Navajo Nation ID; and Social Security card.

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Kelly said the office has tried to hire staff to help with the 2022 elections but most candidates pursue positions elsewhere due to hold ups at the Office of Background Investigations.

The office is still advertising many open positions and the application deadline for a voter registration specialist closed as of May 11.

“We hope to have a pool of applicants that are deemed qualified, real soon,” Kelly said.

As of March, the number of voters registered with the Navajo Nation was 119,918.

“We’re registering new voters and voters who have been inactive for several years,” Kelly said. “They’re coming in to the reactivate their voting status and we will have an accurate number once our database allows us to run a current report.”

The office’s database has been a problem that has come up time and time again due to the age of the system and the computers used.

“We can’t even access our database with the computers that we have right now,” she said.

With the legislation (No. 0051-22) that is currently making its way through the approval process, Kelly said the office plans to use those funds to update their technology.

“We plan to purchase new computers that will be compatible with the new database, we plan to purchase new printers, new scanners, new telephones,” said Kelly. “And hot spots for agency offices since they are experiencing difficulties in accessing the internet for voter registration purposes.”

Most will be one-time purchases, Kelly said.

“It’s going to last many years,” she said.

Kelly told the Naabik’íyáti Committee that the office needs the Navajo Nation Council to approve the appropriations legislation.

“Make this happen,” she urged.

Kelly believes the office is behind technology wise and needs to catch up with more modern technology.

“That’s one thing we started working on,” she said.

Technology is not the only area where the elections’ office is pursuing updates. Office space across the Navajo Nation is also a concern for Kelly.

“Everything is in place, all that’s missing is funding for the election administration,” Kelly said. “Only five agency buildings, they’re real old. Some of them have holes in the floor, others, like Crownpoint, Navajo OSHA condemned that building a long time ago.”

Staff continues to occupy the condemned building in Crownpoint, according to Kelly.

In the search for a new building for Crownpoint, the office has run into problems considering they do not have land for infrastructure.

The problems with office space continue with other agencies like the Northern Agency. Kelly said the agency’s office is located in a warehouse.

“It has issues with handicapped accessibility and lighting in the back is not good, it’s not safe for them,” she said. “Covid protocol is difficult for them to adhere to because it has one entry but you exit out the same way so that’s not Covid protocol.”

To encourage more people to register to vote or to reactivate their registration, the election’s office is looking to have voter registration online.

“That’s one of the things the board of supervisors wants to do and they’re discussing that, at least they mentioned it before,” Kelly said.

She cited rising gas prices as an example of why people may be discouraged from registering to vote.

“Today gas is very expensive,” she said. “People are traveling to the agency offices to register. If we had it online that would make it so much easier and people wouldn’t be spending money on expensive gas or food.”

However, online registration will not be used for this year’s election. Kelly said the office will pick it up after the 2022 election season.


About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M., and currently based out of Gallup as a reporter for the Navajo Times. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.

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