Clerk removes Willie Grayeyes from election ballot
San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson has determined that Willie Grayeyes, a Democratic candidate for the San Juan County Commission, is not a resident of the second voting district.
As a result, Grayeyes has been removed from the ballot for the November 6 general election in a ruling that is likely to be appealed to a state or federal court.
This is the second time Grayeyes has sought a position on the San Juan County Commission. In 2012, he finished third in the general election in a three-way race for Commissioner that was won by Bruce Adams.
In the subsequent years, Federal Judge Robert Shelby redrew the voting districts in a process that created a Native American majority in two of the three districts. In January, Shelby ordered new elections be held in 2018 for the Commission seats.
For the commission seat sought by Grayeyes in the 2018 election, an estimated 65 percent of the voters in the voting district are Native American.
Grayeyes seeks the Commission seat currently held by Blanding Republican Phil Lyman. He was set to face Republican candidate Kelly Laws in the general election.
Nielson has stated that the Democratic party has until the end of August to select a replacement candidate for Grayeyes.
It is anticipated that Grayeyes will appeal the ruling. The appeal could be filed in a state or federal court.
Attorney Steven Boos, who has filed statements for Grayeyes on the matter, was a lead attorney in the federal lawsuit that resulted in the new voting districts.
In a letter to Grayeyes dated May 9, San Juan County Clerk Nielson writes, “After a careful review of all the information submitted and also of Utah Code, I have concluded that you are not a resident of District 2, San Juan County, Utah for purposes of voting.”
Nielson outlined the process he completed on the way to making his determination.
On March 20, Blanding resident Wendy Black, who had sought the Republican nomination for the same District Two Commission seat, filed a challenge to Grayeyes’ residency status.
Black alleged that Grayeyes’ principal place of residence is not in the voting precinct, and that his principal place of residence is not in the boundary of the election district.
Nielson continues in his letter, “Black stated that you claim to live with your sister, but you only stay there occasionally. She stated that you also claim to live in Paiute Mesa, but that the home there is not livable, with boarded up windows, a dilapidated roof, and no tracks going into the home for years.”
After Nielson notified the candidate of the challenge, he writes that Grayeyes submitted sworn declarations that “state that you maintain full-time residency at Navajo Mountain, have resided in a home near Paiute Mesa for 20 years and intend to remain there permanently and indefinitely.
“They also state that you are a registered Utah voter and have never voted in another state. The evidence you submitted also shows that you were born in Utah, graze livestock in Paiute Mountain, and have held elected office with the Navajo Nation.”
Nielson also received a report from a San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputy Colby Turk, who investigated the complaint.
Nielson writes, “The Deputy went to Navajo Mountain to confirm the address on your declaration of candidacy (17 miles from the Navajo Mountain Chapter House). He spoke to eight individuals between Navajo Mountain and Paiute Mesa, seven of whom told him that you do not live there and one who said they didn’t know.
“Four individuals told him that you live in Tuba City, AZ, including your sister, Rose Johnson. The Deputy visited several houses in Paiute Mesa but did not find any houses that were 17 miles from the Chapter House. All of the houses were vacant, most appeared to have been abandoned for some time.
“The deputy also visited Tuba City, where two individuals told him that you lived there in a trailer next to the Church of Holiness. The Deputy visited the trailer, but no one was home.”
Nielson reports that the Deputy spoke to Grayeyes on April 4, 2018.
He writes, “You told the Deputy that you sometimes stay with your sister in Navajo Mountain, and that you have a house that your aunt left you in Paiute Mesa but you hadn’t been there since last fall to water your cattle.
“You also said that you sometimes stay at your uncle’s house in Arizona, just south of the Utah border. You then told the Deputy that you stay with your sister in Utah sometimes, you stay in Tuba City, AZ sometimes, and the rest of the time you are traveling, but you don’t live in Paiute Mesa.
“On April 24, the Deputy visited the house you identified as your home. The house was one of the houses the Deputy visited during his earlier investigation, but witnesses had told him that Harrison Ross lived there.
“He did not observe any recent tire tracks or foot tracks around the house, although he did observe furniture, a TV, pictures, and other objects inside the home when he looked through a window.”
Nielson concludes, “Of all the evidence available to me, the only evidence showing that you live in the one particular residence in Paiute Mesa came from your written response to the voter challenge.
“All the other witnesses, particularly the witnesses who live in Navajo Mountain and Paiute Mesa, stated that you did not live in the region, had not lived there for years, and that you were living in Tuba City, AZ.
“It is apparently common knowledge in that very small community that you do not live in the area and in fact reside in Tuba City.”
While his residency has been questioned, it is undeniable that Grayeyes has been involved in San Juan County and Utah issues for a number of years. 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.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office has received a referral to screen possible criminal charges in the matter.
It is likely that an appeal of the Clerk’s finding will be heard in court before a determination of possible criminal charges is made.