Questions regarding the residency of San Juan County Commission candidate Willie Grayeyes are the latest developments in the ongoing story of San Juan County elections in 2018.
San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson is investigating a complaint that Grayeyes is not a resident of Utah and, as a result, may not be eligible to run for office.
Grayeyes, a Navajo, is the Democrat Party nominee for the commission in District 2.
Nielson said Blanding resident Wendy Black filed a complaint March 20 that states Grayeyes is not a legal resident of the voting district, or of the State of Utah. Colby Turk, a deputy for the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department, investigated the issue.
In a press release, the county said, “While looking into this issue, we have received information that would support this citizen complaint and have requested Mr. Grayeyes to prove his eligibility to be a candidate for office.”
San Juan County would not release a copy of the sheriff’s report stating that the investigation is still ongoing.
The clerk’s request for information was in a letter dated March 28.
Grayeyes responded with a statement on April 19 that states he is a resident of the county and is eligible to be a candidate.
Nielson said his office is continuing to investigate the complaint and is eager to make a final determination. Candidates sign an affidavit verifying their eligibility to run when they file for office.
Questions have been raised about the eligibility of candidates in previous elections, but the county has never moved to remove a candidate. Challenges to a candidacy are rare, but it is the responsibility of the county clerk to verify eligibility for county office.
The county statement adds, “We have been told that there are other voters and possibly other candidates whose primary residence is not in San Juan County, but unless there is a signed formal complaint filed, the county does not follow up with an investigation.”
Statutes clearly state that a person must reside within the district where he or she votes.
However, “residency” is not as clearly outlined. A large number of voters participate in local elections through absentee ballots, even though they may have lived out of the area for an extended period of time.
Grayeyes said his home is near Piute Mesa, in San Juan County, and that he has “resided at this home for at least 20 years and intends to remain there permanently and indefinitely.”
The home is in a remote area with few other homes.
Grayeyes has been involved in local politics for several years, including a run for the San Juan County Commission in 2012. An affidavit filed by Grayeyes said he has been a registered voter in San Juan County since 1984.
The affidavit said he is a chapter official for the Navajo Mountain Chapter, serves as chairman of the school board for the Naatsis’aan Community School in Navajo Mountain, and is currently the chairman of the board of Utah Dine Bikeyah. Grayeyes also serves as a member of the State of Utah BLM Resource Advisory Council.
In January, Federal Judge Robert Shelby signed a court order that creates new voting districts for all three commission seats and all five seats on the San Juan School Board. The order also calls for elections in 2018 for all eight positions.
The orders were the end result of the lawsuit filed against San Juan County by the Navajo Nation. The lawsuit argued that the previous voting districts for the commission and school board violated federal law. The new district boundaries create a Native American majority in two of the three commission districts, including District 2.
The county added, “The responsibility to choose primary candidates falls to the registered political party of the candidate.
“If it is found that Mr. Grayeyes is not a resident of San Juan County, the San Juan County Democratic Party has until Aug. 31, 2018 to select a qualified candidate to run in the general election.”