In a ruling released on December 9, Federal Judge Robert Shelby determined that the five voting districts must be adjusted to be roughly the same size.
As a result, San Juan County will now be responsible to submit a plan that will balance the number of people in each of the five districts. The redistricting project will likely be completed before the 2016 school board election.
The ruling was made as part of ongoing litigation in a lawsuit filed against San Juan County by the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation argues that the voting districts for the Commission and school districts are not balanced and should be restructured after each Census.
The ruling by Shelby is only for the voting districts in the school district.
The voting districts have not been adjusted for approximately 25 years, since a restructuring of the commission and school districts in 1992.
The changes were implemented following litigation and an investigation by the US Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights.
In the subsequent years, the number of voters and residents have changed in the five districts. After the 2010 census, the number of residents in the largest district differed from the smallest district by 1,090 people.
San Juan School District Superintendent Doug Wright said the school district had retained the existing voting plan in part because it follows a “community school” concept, with students from a single voting district generally attending the same schools.
For instance, students in the first voting district all attend schools in the Monticello and La Sal area, while students in the fourth voting district attend schools in the Montezuma Creek area.
In addition, the voting districts followed precinct boundaries. All voters in a single precinct were in the same voting district.
Judge Shelby ruled that the “community school” concept and the precinct boundary concept did not overrule the concept of “one person, one vote”. A voter in a larger voting district has proportionally less power than a voter in a smaller voting district.
As a result, the districts will be redrawn to be roughly equal in population.
In addition to the “one person, one vote” argument, the Navajo Nation has suggested that the voting districts be redrawn with a view toward their racial balance.
Judge Shelby’s recent ruling addressed only the “one person, one vote” issue.
At the current time, two of the five voting districts (1 and 2) have a significant Anglo majority, while two (4 and 5) have a significant Native American majority. It is estimated that the remaining voting district (3) currently has a population that is approximately 58 percent Native American.
Despite the Native American majority, that voting district has elected an Anglo board member in every election since 1992.
The proposed voting districts submitted by the Navajo Nation would create a Native American majority of at least 65 percent in three of the five precincts.
The 2010 Census found that the Native American population of San Juan County was 50.4 percent, with Anglos making up 45.8 percent.
The initial Navajo Nation lawsuit, filed soon after the 2010 Census, focused on the three voting districts for the San Juan County Commission. The lawsuit was later amended to include the voting districts in the San Juan School District.
Information about the current San Juan School District voting districts an be found on a chart on page 2 of this issue of the San Juan Record.
(Note: San Juan Record Editor Bill Boyle is a member of the San Juan School Board.)