Federal Judge Robert Shelby recently appointed Dr. Bernard Grofman to serve as a “Special Master” in the creation of the new voting district boundaries. Grofman is instructed to work with attorneys on both sides of the federal lawsuit to create the districts.
Judge Shelby intends to finalize the boundaries by December 15 so they will be in place for the 2018 elections.
The Navajo Nation sued San Juan County in 2012, arguing that the voting districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Shelby previously ruled that the district boundaries should be adjusted. He recently rejected the adjusted voting boundaries that were established by San Juan County for the 2016 election.
The previous boundaries had been established in the late 1980s after a civil rights lawsuit. As a result of the new districts, Native American candidates were elected to represent several individual districts in the county.
However, despite the fact that Native Americans make up approximately 50 percent of the population of San Juan County, there has never been more than one Native American on the three member Commission, or more than two Native Americans on the five-member school board.
Dr. Grofman will have a difficult task balancing the many competing elements in the remarkably diverse and sprawling county.
Some of the complicating factors include the separate communities with different demographic characteristics, isolated communities, and distinct voting precincts.
There are 20 precincts in San Juan County and it is likely that several precincts will be in more than one voting district.
According to the Washington Post, Dr. Grofman is a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine. He is a specialist on redistricting whose work has been cited in nearly a dozen U.S. Supreme Court cases. Most recentl,y he served as the special master to a federal-district court responsible for the redrawing of the lines of Virginia’s Third Congressional District after it had been declared unconstitutional.