Navajo man is off Utah ballot, reportedly living in Arizona

Friday, May 11, 2018 6:54 PM
Willie Grayeyes raises his hand as he is recognized during a news conference, in Salt Lake City on Aug. 4, 2016. A Utah county says Grayeyes, a Navajo, won’t qualify to run in the first election since a judge ruled voting districts were illegally drawn based on race.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Navajo man can’t get on the ballot to run in a Utah county’s first election since a judge ruled voting districts were illegally drawn based on race, officials said Friday.

An investigation found Willie Grayeyes doesn’t live in San Juan County, despite being registered to vote for decades and holding local office there. County officials have also sent the findings for possible criminal charges, northern Utah prosecutor Troy Rawlings said.

Grayeyes has lived in Utah his entire life and plans to challenge the decision, his lawyer Maya Kane said.

“We don’t think things are over yet,” she said.

She argues the Democratic candidate was targeted after a judge re-drew voting districts that he found were racially gerrymandered to minimize the voices of Navajo voters, who make up half the electorate. Similar legal clashes have been waged over Native American voting rights in several states.

The Republican-led county is fighting back in court, saying the new districts unfairly carve up the city of Blanding, about 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Navajo Nation leaders have condemned the Grayeyes probe, but county officials say it isn’t related to politics or race. Their report says neighbors and his sister told a sheriff’s deputy he lives primarily in Tuba City, Arizona, and he gave conflicting statements.

The Navajo Nation overlaps with San Juan County and stretches into Arizona and New Mexico. Many people in the remote areas travel frequently for work and collect their mail across state lines.

Grayeyes also serves on the board of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a group that supported the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument to protect land that tribes consider sacred and is home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

The land protections were fiercely opposed by largely Republican leaders in San Juan County and statewide. President Donald Trump ordered the monument downsized last year.