Willie Grayeyes files motion in federal court alleging his removal from ballot was unconstitutional
Willie Grayeyes and Terry Whitehat recently filed an action against Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, San Juan County Clerk John David Nielsen, San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws, San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputy Colby Turk, and county resident Wendy Black.
The basis of the lawsuit is that Grayeyes was denied access to the ballot when he was removed as a candidate for elected office. The filing says that “the qualifications to become a candidate for commissioner are unconstitutionally restrictive,” and that Nielson “disenfranchised Grayeyes through an unconstitutional application of the voter registration requirements.”
The filing asks that Grayeyes be reinstated on the ballot, requests attorney fees, and for “any other relief which may be necessary.”
In March, 2018, Grayeyes became the nominee for the Democratic party for the commission seat representing the second district. Afterwards, Wendy Black filed a formal complaint saying Grayeyes does not live in San Juan County.
Colby Turk was the Sheriff’s Deputy who investigated the complaint. Soon afterwards, Nielson ruled that Grayeyes was not a resident of the district and removed the candidate from the ballot.
Spencer Cox, the Utah Lieutenant Governor, has the responsibility to oversee elections in the state.
The filing also includes San Juan County Attorney Kendall laws, who recused himself in part because his father, Kelly Laws, is the Republican Party nominee for the Second District commission seat. Kelly Laws was set to face Grayeyes in the general election.
The filing suggests that Laws and Nielson instigated and directed the investigation. It says Nielson had been gathering evidence all along, that Laws was involved, and that both were using Turk on behalf of Kelly Laws to discredit and disqualify Grayeyes as a candidate.
The filing claims, “Nielson’s decision was not the result of disinterested decision-making by a neutral County Clerk; it was the product of a partisan effort to disqualify Grayeyes as a candidate.”
The filing goes through the process leading to Nielson’s decision, with a focus on how it lacked due process. The filing also discusses Grayeyes claim that his buried umbilical cord establishes his permanent residence in Utah as part of Navajo Common Law.
The filing admits that Grayeyes has a “peripatetic” lifestyle, but adds that because he has no principal place of residence in Arizona, he could not be deemed to have lost his principal place of residence at Navajo Mountain.
Regardless of where he lives, it is clear that Grayeyes has been very involved in Utah issues for many years. He has served as a chapter official, a community school official, and on the Utah Resource Advisory Council for the Bureau of Land Management.
Grayeyes ran for San Juan County Commissioner in 2012, and serves as chairman of Utah Dine Bikeyah, which has been a strong advocate for the initial designation of Bears Ears National Monument.
The filing states that the basis for the ruling to disqualify Grayeyes was political, adding, ”With the exception of Cox, all of the defendants are united by conservative political views, family ties and or political, racial, ethnic, and religious hostility in their opposition to the candidacy of Grayeyes.”