For the first time, a woman has been chosen as one of two candidates facing off for the presidency of the Navajo Nation, whose reservation is the largest in the country.
With unofficial results in from all but one of the tribe’s 110 chapters Wednesday, current President Joe Shirley Jr. had 28 percent, followed by challenger Lynda Lovejoy of Crownpoint, N.M., with 22 percent, putting the two into a runoff election.
Frank Dayish Jr., currently the tribe’s vice president, was third at 17 percent, followed by eight other candidates.
“The results show people want a change in the way our government is functioning,” said Lovejoy, a member of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
The results still have to be certified by tribal elections officials, expected within 30 days. The top two finishers will face each other in the general election.
Shirley and Dayish had generated the most attention in the race and Lovejoy hadn’t been expected to make the runoff.
“They thought she would do good but not as good as she’s doing,” said Edison Wauneka, director of the Navajo Elections Administration.
Shirley said he was surprised by the results. “I don’t think anybody could have predicted it,” he said.
Economic development is expected to be among one of the top issues in the election as the tribe struggles to address poverty and unemployment on the 27,000-square-mile reservation that spans the northeast corner of Arizona and adjoining areas of New Mexico and Utah.
Turnout was nearly 48 percent among the 96,582 Navajo eligible to vote.