The state attorney general's office will send observers to Big Water in December to monitor an election where the future of the small town near the Utah-Arizona border will be decided.
It will be the second time a Big Water election has been observed by state officials. John Clark, counsel to Attorney General Paul Van Dam, said Friday that a representative of the office was there on Election Day.Until Clark's announcement, the only local election the attorney general's office said had been observed was in San Juan County, where a record number of Navajo voters was expected.
No problems were reported in Big Water during the Nov. 6 general election, Clark said, but the office has agreed to come back and make sure the special election also runs smoothly.
Clark said the office sent a representative to Big Water at the request of a legislator, whom he declined to name. That same legislator also asked that the office send a representative next month.
"The concern was that there might be some sort of intimidation exerted in the upcoming disincorporation election against voters," Clark said. "Intimidation or unorthodox election practices."
The Dec. 18 special election was called after opponents of Big Water Mayor Alex Joseph, frustrated over the community's first-ever property tax, gathered 51 signatures on a petition.
Voters will be asked whether the town dominated by Joseph, a polygamist and Libertarian, and his family since the mid-1970s should remain incorporated.
The special election is only the latest in a series of conflicts between the Joseph family and other residents of Big Water, which wasn't incorporated until 1983.
According to a report released by the attorney general's office Friday, few problems were observed by the 11 state representatives during the San Juan County elections.
The unsuccessful effort by area Navajos to take control of the government through a massive voter-registration drive and fielding candidates for county offices drew national attention.
Much of that attention was focused on friction between county officials and Indian activists over whether many of the newly registered voters were actually already on the electoral roles.
Clark said the observers helped ease the tensions and prevented problems that may have resulted from the accusations that the voter-registration drive resulted in duplications.
"As a result of our presence in the various voting districts, many people who may not have otherwise been allowed to vote were given the opportunity. Relatively very few people were turned away," Clark stated in the report.
The Lieutenant Governor's Election Laws Task Force will be asked to look at making several changes as a result of the observations made in San Juan County, Clark said.
The representatives of the offices of the attorney general and the lieutenant governor were joined by a volunteer from the state Department of Health who speaks Navajo.
Raymond Wixom, a staff attorney for the Division of Environmental Health, learned the language for a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the San Juan County area.
Wixom said he was pleased to see the increased interest in politics among the Navajos and predicted it will continue to grow. "Eventually, there may be considerably more success on the part of Navajo candidates," he said.