Deschene, the 2010 Democratic nominee for Arizona secretary of state, finished second in the Aug. 26 primary election, behind former Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley. In early October, the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals disqualified him after Deschene refused to answer questions asked in Navajo to determine his fluency.
Deschene has said he is proficient, but not fluent, in the language. Navajo law requires an individual running for president to be fluent in both Navajo and English.
On Thursday, the Navajo Supreme Court ordered the Navajo Election Administration to replace Deschene on the ballot with the third-place finisher in August’s primary, Navajo Nation Council delegate Russell Begaye.
On Friday, the council voted, 11-10, to allow voters to decide whether a presidential contender had the language skills to qualify. Shelly vetoed that bill on Tuesday.
“The decision to amend the language requirements … must be brought before the Navajo people through a referendum vote,” Shelly said in a veto message. “This decision is far too important, and it is one the people need to decide on. Navajo leaders should have both language and cultural fluency in order to qualified. Every society has an obligation to hold onto their traditions.”
In a message posted on his Facebook page, Deschene thanked his supporters and said he would suspend his campaign.
It’s unclear how the Board of Election Supervisors will proceed. About 8,000 absentee and early ballots have already been cast, the Election Administration told the Associated Press, but the Navajo Supreme Court ordered election officials to reprint ballots with Begaye’s name. Overriding Shelly’s veto would require 15 of 21 votes on the council, which is unlikely, given the razor-thin vote.
Tribal law allows officials to delay an election by up to 60 days in order to print new ballots in certain instances.
There are about 111,000 registered voters in the Navajo Nation, according to elections administrators. Those who don’t vote by absentee can cast ballots at 110 voting locations in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
Shirley served two terms as president between 2002 and 2011. Shelly served as his vice president.