The Bears Ears Buttes in Utah. Photo: Tim Peterson

Navajo candidate going back on ballot after winning lawsuit

Another Native candidate will be on the upcoming ballot in a Utah county where Native Americans represent a majority of the population.

Officials in San Juan County disqualified Willie Grayeyes because they said the Navajo Nation citizen didn't live there. But he's going back on the ballot after a federal judge ruled in his favor on Tuesday.

“He’s glad to get past this part of it because he would like to help guide the county in a direction where the county is solving problems for all the citizens of the county,” Steven Boos, an attorney for Grayeyes, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Barring a successful appeal by the county, Grayeyes, a Democrat, will face Republican Kelly Laws on the November ballot. They are competing for District 2 seat on the county commission.

A second Native candidate will also be on the ballot in District 3. But since Kenneth Maryboy, another Navajo citizen, is running unopposed, he's effectively won the seat.

Maryboy secured victory after defeating Rebecca Benally, also Navajo, in the Democratic primary in June.

District 3 has long been held by a Navajo citizen because the majority of the population there is Navajo. The other two seats have been represented by non-Indians.

But District 2 now has a majority Native population. The county was forced to redraw its voting map after the Navajo Nation won a voting rights lawsuit in 2016.

The county, however, is fighting. Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, Navajo Nation v. San Juan County, which is now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Turtle Talk also has posted briefs from Grayeyes v. Cox, the case that resulted in Grayeyes going back on the ballot.

The November election could bring major change to the county, where the non-Indian power structure has not always represented the interests of the majority Native population. A key example is the Bears Ears National Monument, which the county has vehemently opposed.

Maryboy and Grayeyes are strong supporters of Bears Ears. If both end up on the commission, they could shift the county's position while the Navajo Nation and other tribes challenge President Donald Trump's controversial decision to dismantle the monument.

Despite the change in the voting map, District 1 continues to be majority non-Indian.

"Mr. Greyeyes will be the first Navajo candidate to run for a position in the new County Commission District 2," President Russell Begaye said in a press release on Wednesday. We believe the district court’s decision upholds not only Mr. Greyeyes’ rights but the rights of all Navajos who wish to run for public office in San Juan County.”

Read More on the Story:
#NativeVote18: Federal Judge orders Willie Grayeyes back on to Utah ballot (Indian Country Today August 8, 2018)
Federal judge orders San Juan County to put Utah Navajo activist Willie Grayeyes back on the ballot (The Salt Lake Tribune August 7, 2018)
Judge orders San Juan Co. candidate back on the ballot in special election over racial gerrymandering (Fox 13 August 7, 2018)
Navajo man put back on Utah ballot (The Associated Press August 7, 2018)

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