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Uncounted ballots found, voting machine concerns persist amid recount of Navajo Nation primary

Election workers in Window Rock, Ariz., conduct a recount of ballots from the Navajo Nation's Central Agency from the tribe's 2022 presidential primary election.
Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch
Election workers in Window Rock, Ariz., conduct a recount of ballots from the Navajo Nation's Central Agency from the tribe's 2022 presidential primary election.

The recount of the Navajo Nation’s presidential primary has revealed three dozen early ballots that weren’t originally counted. It follows concerns by several candidates that the results from the Aug. 2 election could be inaccurate.

Election workers in Window Rock this week found 36 unopened early ballots in the Chilchinbeto Chapter. According to unofficial results from the primary, 321 votes were originally counted there, and the missing ballots represent more than 10% of the chapter’s total. Five more uncounted ballots were reportedly found in a voting machine compartment from a different chapter.

Boxes and suitcases containing ballots from the Navajo Nation's Northern Agency await a tally in Window Rock, Ariz., during a recount of the tribe's 2022 presidential primary election.
Debbie Nez Manuel
Boxes and suitcases containing ballots from the Navajo Nation's Northern Agency await a tally in Window Rock, Ariz., during a recount of the tribe's 2022 presidential primary election.

In addition, according to primary candidate Ethel Branch, election officials are using different voting machines for the recount than were used in the original election. Branch says that’s deepened her concern about the process and is insisting staff use the original machines. Branch also worries about ballot security.

The Navajo Election Administration did not comment.

Ten of the 15 presidential primary candidates requested the recount last month after they questioned the accuracy of the results as well as transparency by election officials. The new tally of nearly 50,000 votes in all 110 Navajo chapters is expected to wrap up Friday.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.