SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Republican is suing after losing a county election to a Navajo candidate in San Juan County dogged by allegations of discrimination against Navajo voters.
Kelly Laws wants a judge to overturn Democrat Willie Grayeyes’ victory in the San Juan County commission race over questions about whether he is truly a Utah resident, the Salt Lake Tribune reported Thursday.
County officials had tried to remove Grayeyes from the ballot before the election, saying an investigation sparked by a complaint from a different Republican hopeful found that he lives primarily over the nearby Arizona border.
A federal judge reversed that decision after deciding the county clerk falsified the complaint by improperly backdating it. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer did not rule directly on the residency issue, however. The new suit was filed last week in Utah state court.
Grayeyes said the residency question is a political attack as Navajos are poised to form a majority of the three-person commission for the first time. He has been registered to vote in San Juan County since he was 18 and held leadership positions in Utah for decades, his lawyers have said.
Grayeyes acknowledged that he owns property in Page, Arizona, but said Navajo Mountain, Utah, is his home.
He compared his residency to that of newly elected U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, who has owned homes in several states, including his current residence in Utah.
“Why don’t they go after him too?” said Grayeyes, who is set to be sworn in Monday after winning the race in the lightly populated county by 159 votes.
Leaders of the sprawling Navajo Nation, which stretches into New Mexico and Arizona, have supported Grayeyes and pointed out that many people in the remote area must cross state lines for work, errands or even to collect mail.
Laws, though, argues in the lawsuit that Grayeyes lacks a Utah driver license, spends time with his girlfriend in Tuba City, Arizona, and owns a horse that he keeps at his uncle’s home in Arizona.
Laws’ attorneys, Peter Stirba and Matthew Strout, did not immediately return messages seeking comment from the Salt Lake Tribune or The Associated Press.
The dust-up comes after the first general election since another federal judge re-drew county voting districts, saying the old ones were illegally created based on race and minimized the voices of Navajo residents who make up more than half the population.
County officials have denied treating Navajo voters unfairly. They argue the new boundaries discriminate against people in the county’s largest city of Blanding. They are appealing the ruling.
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