Navajo Presidential Election Postponement Good News for Tobin, Bad for Kirkpatrick

News on Friday that the election for president of the Navajo Nation will be postponed was clearly not what Democrats in northern Arizona wanted to hear.

Poor turnout in Tuesday's election by Navajos would likely impact the close race between Congressional District One candidates Ann Kirkpatrick and Andy Tobin.

See also: -Andy Tobin: Obamacare Caused SB 1062

Tobin, the Republican state Speaker of the House, is running against the incumbent Democrat Kirkpatrick in the district, which had its borders realigned in 2012.

An Arizona Public Radio web article today predicts high turnout on the nation's largest reservation, but doesn't seem to take into account the latest development.

In an election season marked by turmoil in the race for the Navajo Nation's highest office, the Navajo Supreme Court on Friday stripped the reservation's election board of power and ordered the presidential election postponed to an unscheduled date.

The much-watched political debacle in the country's largest Indian reservation centered around candidate Chris Deschene's alleged lack of fluency in Navajo. Last week, the controversy caused a crisis in the tribal government after the election board refused to abide by a Navajo Supreme Court ruling to take Deschene's name off the ballot. Emergency legislation by Navajo lawmakers that tried to alter the language requirement was vetoed by President Ben Shelly, who'd lost the primary election in August to Deschene and Joe Shirley Jr.

Deschene suspended his campaign after Shelly vetoed the bill, but that drama was followed by the announcement of Election Board Commissioner Wallace Charley that Deschene's name would not be removed from the ballot, giving Navajos the option to vote for him anyway. The reservation's high court ended that situation by canceling and postponing the election for president, (though not other Navajo offices), and ordering that votes for the presidential races could not be tallied.

Fronteras Desk, a journalism cooperative supported by public radio, reported on Tuesday that the Navajo vote was "critical" to the Kirkpatrick-Tobin race.

"Really the game in this district is about turnout," Fronteras Desks quotes Stephen Nuño, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University, as saying. Minorities, Nuño told a reporter, "make up almost half the district and they usually vote democrat. Republicans will benefit if minorities, including Native Americans, don't vote."

After two polls in early October showed Tobin with a healthy lead, Kirkpatrick's campaign "rapped both polls for underestimating participation by Native American voters," according to an Arizona Republic article.

But with the Navajo's biggest race not happening, it seems safe to predict that will have a negative effect on Navajo turnout. Without what is arguably the most important race on the Navajo ballot, a possibly significant number of Navajos -- especially those in remote locations on the immense reservations -- may decide to put off voting.

Tobin may need to learn how to say "thank you" in Navajo.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.