Federal Judge rules Commission districts are unconstitutional, must be redrawn
Feb 24, 2016 | 6255 views | 0 0 comments | 236 236 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A federal judge has ruled that the San Juan County Commission Districts are unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and must be redrawn.

The immediate impact of Judge Robert Shelby’s February 19 decision is yet to be determined as the election process for one open Commission seat is set to begin in coming weeks.

While Judge Shelby is expected to approve redrawn voting districts for the San Juan School Board this month, the process to redraw the Commission district boundaries may just be beginning. It is unknown if the new commission districts will be in place for the November 8 general election.

The Navajo Nation and others filed a complaint in 2012, arguing that the three Commission districts were unbalanced and should be redrawn. While Commissioners moved two precincts from one district to another in 2012, they generally followed the principle that voting districts would follow precinct boundaries.

The minor change moved the Ucolo and Cedar Point precincts from District One (currently represented by Bruce Adams) to District Two (currently represented by Phil Lyman). There were no changes to District Three (currently represented by Rebecca Benally).

The voting districts were set up in 1986, after a previous legal action. San Juan County is the only county in the State of Utah which has commissioners elected by this method.

No changes have been made after the boundaries were set in 1986 until 2012, when the minor adjustments were made. Judge Shelby wrote, “San Juan County is not frozen in time, and neither are the attitudes and interests of its citizens.”

The federal judge added, “The County is liable… because it failed to attend to minimal redistricting obligations for over 25 years, and then incorrectly treated the racially-based Third District as a permanent fixture of its politics.”

While the race for the White House has been in process for several months, the local election season begins in coming days with the opening of the filing period for local, state and federal offices.

While it is not yet finalized, there may be several additional changes in the voting process. The mail-in only ballots of recent elections may return, at least for many voters, to more traditional, election-day ballots.

San Juan County voters will face a wide variety of candidates seeking office in the November 8 general election. The filing period opens on March 11 for these positions. It closes on Thursday, March 17.

After the filing period closes, the process begins to narrow the candidates. Political party events and primary elections will assist in this process.

Voters in an as-yet-to-be-determined portion of San Juan County will select a Commissioner for the seat currently held by Bruce Adams.

In addition, three positions are open on the San Juan School Board. They are currently held by Debbie Christiansen, Merri Shumway and Bill Boyle.

In addition to selecting a new president in the national election, two Utah seats in Congress are open, including the seats currently held by Representative Jason Chaffetz and Senator Mike Lee.

At the state level, voters will select a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Auditor and Treasurer.

Two local positions on Utah’s Capital Hill are open, including the seats currently held by Representative Mike Noel and Senator David Hinkins.
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