As San Juan County prepares for its first election since federal redistricting, some residents will head to the polls and cast their votes in an unfamiliar district and for unfamiliar candidates.
Despite the primaries being a month away and the general election in November, San Juan County has already experienced a wave of public engagement.
Since March 15, the deadline for candidates to declare a run for office, more than 200 Republicans have registered for Democratic ballots to vote in the District 3 primary for County Commissioner.
Rebecca Benally and Kenneth Maryboy are the two candidates vying for the Democratic seat. The primary will not only determine the Democratic representative, but also the final representative since no Republican has filed to run.
District 1 will also have a Republican primary, but due to the party’s stricter rules, only registered Republicans are able to vote.
Kim Henderson, a long-time Monticello resident, hopes citizens become engaged regardless of their party affiliation.
“People are going out because they love this area,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re in district one, two or three — we’re all family.”
Henderson, who lives in District 1, and other community members have been actively educating District 3 residents about their ability to vote across party lines.
Historically, District 3 has been led by a Native commissioner since the 1986 election of Mark Maryboy. But, District 1 and District 2 have not yet elected a Native commissioner. Under the new federally-ordered district boundaries, the Native population in District 2 has doubled, from 30 percent of the district’s population to 65percent.
Willie Grayeyes, a Native American, was originally on the ballot to represent District 2. However, he was removed from the ballot after county officials found he did not meet the residency requirements to run for office.
Grayeyes claims that his residency is valid based on the location of his buried umbilical cord, a Navajo tradition that ties a person to their place of birth. The San Juan County Clerk’s office released a letter on May 9 saying he is not eligible to vote or run for office in District 2.
“All the other witnesses, particularly the witnesses who live in Navajo Mountain and Paiute Mesa (including your sister Rose) stated that you do not live in the region, had not lived there for years and that you were living in Tuba City, Arizona,” the letter stated.
Grayeyes has issued an appeal to the decision, according to his lawyer Steven Boos.
Since his removal, candidates like Marylene Tahy are now seeking to represent the Democratic party. Tahy is a Navajo who filed a nomination to run for District 2 County Commissioner as a Democrat and did not receive enough votes from caucus members to be on the primary ballot.
The Democratic party has until August 31 to select a candidate to replace Grayeyes, according to County Clerk John David Nielson.
Some residents believe the 2018 special election could open doors to the election of a second Native American county commissioner and more understanding of Native American needs.
“I know there’s a need for someone with experience, somebody with an education that understands both sides,” Tahy said. “We need representation, not because of race or whatever. We’re all people and we should all treat one another like we’re just people.”
At the moment, only one candidate, Republican Kelly Laws, is running to represent District 2 as County Commissioner.
There are more local elections in San Juan County this year than usual, following a December 2017 federal government order to redraw voting districts for the School Board and Board of Commissioners.
The court found the previous district voting lines violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that citizens cannot be denied the right to vote on the basis of race.
The newly drawn lines were created by University of California, Irvine professor and “special master” Bernard Grofman.
“The maps I have drawn are based on census blocks and other units of census geography,” Grofman said in his report.
The county normally follows a staggered election process, in which officials are elected into office every two years and traditionally serve a four-year term.
In the 2018 special elections, however, all three County Commission seats and all five school board member seats must be voted on, cutting some officials’ terms short.
“[Officials from] Commission district 1 and school board 1, 2, and 3 will be up for election again in two years,” said Nielson.
There will be a Republican primary for Commission District 1 and a Democratic primary for District 3 on June 26. The Commission primaries will occur because the county will only allow one candidate per party to be represented on the ballot in November.
School board Districts 3 and 4 will also have non-partisan primaries in June, due to the size of their candidacy pools.
The County has a closed primary for the Commission seats; generally, only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote for candidates of their own party.
Republicans, however, can vote in the Democratic primary in District 3 by submitting a ballot request form to the County Clerks office. Once the office has verified a voter’s residency, they will be added to the list, making them eligible to vote in polling places and to receive a mail-in Democratic primary ballot.
If a San Juan County resident hasn’t registered to vote yet, they can do so at the polls when voting in the primary. However, residents must ensure they are registered voters at least 30 days before the general election on November 6.
Voting can be done via mail-in ballot or at physical polling places. In order to receive a mail-in ballot for the elections, mail-in ballot registration must be postmarked at least 30 days before each election.
The physical polling places for the primary and general election include the Navajo Mountain Chapter House, Montezuma Creek Voting Center, Monument Valley Welcome Center and San Juan County Clerks Office, according to the County Clerks Office.
Represents areas of Blanding, La Sal, Monticello, and Spanish Valley. There will be a Republican primary on June 26, and there is no Democrat running in the race.
Represents areas of Blanding, Halls Crossing, Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain, White Mesa. This district will not have a primary race. Laws is currently running unopposed.
Represents areas of Aneth, Bluff, Montezuma Creek and Tselakai Dezza. There will be a Democratic primary on June 26. There is no Republican candidate in the race.