Grayeyes was nominated to be the Democratic nominee for the seat in March but was removed from the ballot in April after San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson decided that he was not a resident of San Juan County. Grayeyes filed suit in federal court, arguing that he was removed from the ballot without justification. The plaintiff is running for one of the newly drawn election boundaries in the county that gives Navajo tribal members a better chance to have a majority to win a seat on the three-member county council.
Nuffer suggested that any legal questions regarding residency will be delayed until after the election.
Navajo Nation officials condemned the Nielson’s handling of the complaint. “It appears that Mr. Nielson backdated official county documents in an attempt to strip Willie Grayeyes of his candidacy. It’s clear that Nielson made egregious, if not purposeful, errors in disqualifying Mr. Willie Grayeyes as a candidate,” Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, said.
The ruling has been met with accolades from some fronts. Katie Matheson, communications director with Alliance for a Better Utah said, “We are pleased to hear that Willie Grayeyes will be on the November ballot. The incidents surrounding his removal from the ballot and the ultimate removal itself are prime examples of racism at work in our systems. We are glad to see that justice has again prevailed after attempts to quell voices of the Native American community in San Juan County.
“The potential that a backdated complaint resulted in a candidate being kicked off the ballot is deeply concerning,” said Matheson. “We call on San Juan County officials to obtain an independent investigation into the alleged backdating by County Clerk John David Nielson. If the allegations are found to be true, Mr. Nielson should resign from office, either for discriminatory behavior or for his incompetent handling of this complaint. The people of San Juan County deserve a county clerk they can trust will handle complaints with integrity and competency.”
This is the second time recently that a federal judge has ruled in favor of the Native American community in San Juan County—the first being the recent case striking down gerrymandered San Juan County commission district boundaries.
The federal lawsuit was filed against a host of officials, with Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox listed as the main defendant. Cox did not attend the hearing. In fact, there was little participation at the hearing from the State of Utah.
Grayeyes lists an address on Piute Mesa near Navajo Mountain as his residence. He was born at the location and has argued that his umbilical cord, buried soon after his birth, establishes his residency according to Navajo tradition, according to the San Juan Record.
After a Blanding resident filed a formal complaint, a San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputy conducted an investigation and determined that the home was not inhabited on a regular basis. The investigation suggested that Grayeyes spent a significant amount of time in Tuba City, Ariz., according to the Record.
The District Two seat for commissioner is currently held by Phil Lyman. The district was significantly changed after a lawsuit in federal court. Judge Robert Shelby approved new boundaries for the district in January, creating a voting district that is an estimated 65 percent Native American.
The district boundaries include a large portion of Blanding; the Blanding area forms the largest populated area in the district. An estimated 43 percent of the district is made up of voters who live there.
The Republican candidate for Commissioner is Kelly Laws of Blanding.
While the residency of Grayeyes has been questioned, he is very familiar in San Juan County, according to the Record. He has served in leadership positions for the Navajo Mountain Chapter, served as president of the Navajo Mountain Community School Board, and served on the Utah Resource Advisory Council for the Bureau of Land Management.
In addition, Grayeyes is chairman of the board of Utah Dine Bikeyah and has been a vocal supporter of the original Bears Ears National Monument designation. In the 1980s, when the voting boundaries were adjusted after a similar lawsuit, Grayeyes was serving as president of Utah Navajo Industries and was involved in the process of creating the new districts.