By a 2-1 vote on November 14, Commissioners changed the districts of two precincts, Cedar Point and Ucolo. The two precincts have been in the northern and western commission district currently represented by Bruce Adams. They were moved to the central commission district currently represented by Phil Lyman.
There were no changes made to the southern commission district currently represented by Kenneth Maryboy.
County Clerk Norman Johnson recommended the change after he and County Auditor John Fellmeth analyzed data from the 2010 Census.
The Census showed the most significant population growth in recent years is in Adam’s district, which has included 36.4 percent of county residents. Lyman’s district contained just 30.9 percent of residents.
The population of the La Sal and Spanish Valley precincts grew from 332 residents in the 1990 Census to 1,166 residents in the 2010 Census.
Johnson said that the goal is to make the districts as equal as possible. The adjustment brings each district to within one percent of the ideal of three districts representing 33.3 percent of the population.
The challenge is that in addition to the growth in northern San Juan County, the racial distribution of San Juan County residents is also changing over time. The 2010 Census shows that the majority of county residents are Native American.
A large group of residents would like to see the commission districts shuffled to increase the likelihood of more Native American representation on the county commission.
Commissioner Maryboy made a motion to use “Census Blocks” to determine voting precincts, rather than the precinct boundaries which have not changed for nearly 30 years. The motion died for lack of a second.
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Adams motioned to adjust the boundaries. The motion was seconded by Lyman and passed by a 2-1 vote.
Leonard Gorman, of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, said that the county has an obligation to redistrict every ten years and added, “Redistricting means you redraw the lines.”
Gorman recommended the Commission begin by using the Census Blocks, rather than the existing precinct boundaries. The Census Blocks divide the county into a large number of smaller areas.
Gorman had approached the Commission in September with a proposal, using Census Blocks, to redraw the Commission districts.
It would create two districts, each with a Native American population of approximately 60 percent. The third district would be primarily Anglo.
The proposal would essentially split Blanding into three separate commission districts.
Gorman asked that the county begin an open, public process to address the redistricting issue. “Every ten years, you should revisit districting lines,” said Gorman. “A process needs to unfold, and we need to follow that process to arrive at a final destination.”
Members of the Utah Navajo Commission, consisting of officials from each Navajo Nation Chapter in San Juan County, said that they unanimously support Gorman’s proposal.
“All we are trying to do is to get maximum opportunity out of the Voting Rights Act,” said Clarence Rockwell. He added, “We support the Human Rights Office of the Navajo Nation.”
The Utah Navajo Commission, while stating they do not want to consider another option, called for an open process, including public hearings.
Commissioner Lyman said the law outlines a process of redistricting that maintains “communities of interest”. He said the process should not be “broad redistricting, but narrowly tayloring the existing districts.”
Lyman added that the law says race can be considered, but shouldn’t be the predominant factor.
He asked several Chapter officials if they felt that race should be the predominant factor in redistricting.
The answer was, “That’s what it comes to.”
A complicating factor is that the voting districts were set up in the 1980s in a Consent Decree under the oversight of Federal Judge David Winder. In 1984, more than 64 percent of county voters approved the three districts. The ballot question outlined the areas in each voting district.
As the issue has developed over the past two months, Commissioners Adams and Lyman have stated that the court order and voter preference remains in place unless the courts state that they should change.
“First and foremost, I have a legal obligation to the court,” said Adams.
Adams said he would be glad to forward Gorman’s proposal, in addition to the action taken by the Commission, to the federal court.
Both the Commissioners and Gorman said that as the process develops, the Commission will continue to address the issue.