State officials got an earful from both sides during their day-long visit to San Juan County for a firsthand look at preparations for including hundreds of new Navajo voters in next week's election.
At least 10 attorneys and other election experts from the offices of the state attorney general and lieutenant governor are headed to the county next week to settle Election Day questions.But John Clark, counsel to Attorney General Paul Van Dam, and Deputy Lt. Gov. Dave Hansen were there Tuesday to hear complaints about how the county is handling the results of a massive voter-registration drive among Navajos.
University of Utah students and other participants in the drive claim to have registered 1,000 new voters, but county officials say nearly half may already be on the rolls.
The question of how many new Navajo voters there are in the county is especially important this year, because there are Indian candidates on the ballot for every county office.
Clark and Hansen began their day with a two-hour meeting with the San Juan County Commission, attorney and clerk in Monticello, followed in the afternoon by a session with Navajo leaders in Blanding.
County officials were concerned about four voter-registration forms rejected by County Clerk Gail Johnson minutes before the meeting by Commissioner Mark Maryboy, the only Navajo on the three-member commission.
The forms had not been signed by a registrar and were sent to a Utah Navajo Development Council office, apparently after the Oct. 16 cut-off for voter registration for the Nov. 6 election.
When Clark said the four forms had to be accepted because of a 1904 Utah Supreme Court ruling, San Juan County Attorney Craig Halls said the decision was an example of the county's frustration.
"It seems to me that we have done nothing but bend over backward to make sure everybody has an opportunity to vote," Halls said. "It doesn't really seem to matter."
Navajos meeting at the Blanding offices of the Utah Navajo Development Council sounded just as frustrated. The focus of their concern was a county letter sent to 422 Navajos suspected of being registered to vote more than once.
The four-paragraph letter is addressed, "Dear Voter" and states that because the voter's name appears more than once, the county "would like to verify your registration information with you prior to the election so that no difficulty will arise on Election Day."
It goes on to tell the voter where and when registration information can be reviewed and urges, "Please take this opportunity to ensure your registration is accurate and up to date."
The Navajo leaders' worry that the letter may be misinterpreted by Navajos, many of whom don't read English and will have to have it translated, is shared by the United States Department of Justice, Clark said.
Clark spoke by telephone from Monticello Tuesday with Richard Jerome, one of the Justice Department attorneys a federal court order requiring San Juan County to provide Indians with equal access to the election process.
The county had agreed to run a radio advertisement on four Navajo stations advising the 422 Navajos that the letter "shall in no way affect your right to vote on Nov. 6 and is just an effort to correct any duplicate names."
But the Navajo leaders said the advertisement may not be enough to correct the damage done by the letter, which was mailed last week after consultation with Clark and Hansen.
An attempt by Clark to stop the letter, after he met with a Salt Lake City attorney representing the 422 Navajos, came too late.