On January 12, 2012, six San Juan County residents and the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit in US District Court claiming that the San Juan County Commission voting districts violate the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
The filing claims that the three Commission districts, which were created by court decree in 1984 and amended by the commission on November 14, 2011, deny an equal voice for Native American residents.
According to the 2010 US Census, 50.4 percent of San Juan County residents are Native American. A redistricting proposal developed by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission would create a majority Native American voting population in two of the three districts. Blanding would be split three ways between the three proposed districts.
Instead of creating entirely new voting districts, Commissioners moved two precincts (Ucolo and Cedar Point) from the northwestern district currently represented by Bruce Adams to the central district currently represented by Phil Lyman. The Commission made no changes to the southeastern district currently represented by Kenneth Maryboy.
Attorney Brian Barnard, who represents the plaintiff, argues that moving the two precincts may have created more balance in the districts, but it “doesn’t solve the overall problem.” He argues that the current districts deny an equal voice to Native American residents of San Juan County.
An amended filing was submitted to the court on February 27. Barnard said that San Juan County has until March 12 to file a response.
The initial filing called for a preliminary injunction to prohibit the county from holding further elections which use the old district map. A request for a preliminary injunction has been withdrawn in the new filing.
The new election cycle begins this week, when the filing period opens for public office. The northwestern commission seat will be on the November ballot.
While Native Americans make up a majority of San Juan County residents, the Native population declined by 765 residents between 2000 and 2010. The percent of Native American population fell from 56.5 percent in 2000. Explosive growth in northern San Juan County is primarily made up of Anglo residents.
While the San Juan Record has been unable to obtain racial information on the district level, the voting patterns in the district may be of interest. They show just how evenly split party affiliations are in the county.
A standard method of determining the demographics of a district is by the percent of voters selecting each major party candidate in the most recent presidential election.
In the 2008 Presidential election, the Republican candidate (McCain) was selected by 56 percent of voters in the current northwestern district represented by Adams. The Democrat candidate (Obama) was preferred by 44 percent of voters.
In the current central district represented by Lyman, McCain was preferred over Obama by 80 to 20 percent.
In the southeastern district represented by Kenneth Maryboy, Obama was the preferred candidate by 83 to 17 percent.
Overall in San Juan County, just 232 votes separated the two candidates in 2008. A total of 2,638 voters (52 percent) of voters preferred McCain, while 2,406 (48 percent) preferred Obama.