FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez took an early lead in the tribe’s primary election Tuesday, followed by Buu Nygren, a former vice presidential candidate.
Navajo voters were deciding which two of 15 presidential hopefuls they want to advance to the tribe’s general election in November. Nez and Nygren were leading the pack with around 80 of the 110 precincts reporting, according to unofficial results from the Navajo Election Administration.
They were followed by attorney Justin Jones and former tribal Attorney General Ethel Branch. Potentially thousands of votes were still outstanding late Tuesday from some of the most populous places on the reservation.
Candidates set up tents across the Navajo Nation on Tuesday, offering fry bread and other food to voters as they made a final campaign push. Election day is a social event on the Navajo Nation, though some precautions were still in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The candidates’ platforms included economic development, ensuring Navajos have basic infrastructure like running water and electricity, and finding ways to preserve the Navajo language. They also vowed to press the federal government to fulfill its duty to provide public safety, health care and education to the tribe.
More than 123,000 Navajos were registered to vote in the primary that’s held the same day as Arizona’s primary. The tribe generally sees around a 50% voter turnout. Polls closed at 7 p.m. Mountain Time.
Election workers were reporting results from a sports center in the tribal capital of Window Rock that was closed to the public this year because of coronavirus precautions.
The Navajo Nation is largest Native American reservation in the U.S., spanning 27,000 square miles (69,930 square kilometers) of high desert, forests, wind-swept mesas and mountains bordering New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Its population of 406,000 is second to only the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Nez says he will bring continuity to the tribal government at a time it’s tasked with spending more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding.
Nygren, who was a vice presidential candidate in 2018, sees himself as a diplomat who can work with tribal lawmakers.
Jones has said he’ll unravel Navajo regulations to better support small businesses.
Branch is among six vying to become the first woman to lead the Navajo Nation. The others are: educator Dolly Mason; scholar Leslie Tsosie; Chinle Chapter President Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch; Frankie Davis, who has advocated for extracting natural resources; former New Mexico state legislator Sandra Jeff; and Emily Ellison, who says she will push the federal government to give the Navajo Nation title to its land if elected.
The other candidates are: Greg Bigman, chairman of the Diné College Board of Regents; former Navajo Vice President Frank Dayish; Ts’ah Bii Kin Chapter manager Earl Sombrero; and Dineh Benally and Kevin Cody, both of whom sought the tribal presidency in 2018.