San Juan County is heading for a possible redistribution of the elections: Decades of legal problems make the process difficult | news

“I don’t support the whole concept. I won’t be there, ”said Bruce Adams, San Juan County commissioner.

Adams, the only Republican on the commission, voted against a resolution to hire William Cooper, an attorney who previously testified in the Navajo Nation’s redistribution lawsuit against San Juan County, to evaluate 2020 census data for San Juan County and electoral district maps for the district commission to redraw and, if necessary, the school management. The resolution was passed two to one at the regular session on May 18, with Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Greyeyes voting in favor.

In 2012, the Navajo Nation brought a lawsuit against the San Juan District under federal suffrage, which resulted in the reorganization of the district’s constituencies and a change in the district’s political landscape. As a result, the district commission became a majority Democrat and a majority Navajo for the first time.

This year’s census and the nationwide redistribution could change the political landscape in the district again.

“We have statewide redistributions for our House and Senate districts and districts for our congressional officials, while we have county and community redistributions,” said Niki Venugopal, director of campaigns for the American Union for Civil Liberties for Utah.

According to the 2010 census, San Juan County was 50.4% Native American and 45.8% white. In 2016, Federal District Court Justice Robert Shelby found that the county’s constituencies were violating the 1965 Suffrage Act and Constitution by failing to protect the Navajo Nation’s voting rights. The majority of Native American voters were placed in an electoral district.

“There was this necessary new draw on allegations of racist gerrymandering in San Juan County. Now they have to go through this next mandatory process on the census schedule, ”Venugopal said.

Shelby appointed Bernard Grofman, a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, to redraw the county’s constituencies based on 2016 population data. The three electoral district maps that Grofman presented each provided opportunities for a majority Navajo county commission and a school board. Each card complied with the “one person, one vote” mandate, which stipulates that constituencies should only be drawn based on the number of inhabitants.

The 2018 district elections resulted in the first majority Navajo county commission in San Juan history. Both Navajo and Democrat Commissioners Willie Greyeyes and Ken Maryboy took their oaths with Republican Commissioner Bruce Adams in 2019.

“I’m sure it’s culture shock for most of you that we two Indians are sitting on the county seat, but even so, we’ll do everything we can to make a better life for those of you who live in San Juan County and the others live. “From you associated with San Juan County,” said Maryboy after the swearing in in January 2019.

The proxy lawsuit was finally settled in the fall of 2019 when the San Juan County Commission decided to pay Navajo Nation attorneys $ 2.6 million in fees over an eight-year period.

Now, San Juan County is preparing for another possible realignment of its constituencies based on the 2020 census results. The results of the census should be available in September this year.

Cooper, an expert in drawing constituency maps, will go over the 2020 census data and advise the district commission on whether or not to reconfigure the constituencies for the district commission and school board. Cooper has assessed redistribution cards for approximately 700 different jurisdictions since 1986. He was consulted as an expert by the Navajo Nation in its previous lawsuit against San Juan County.

“What is important is that the final decision of this commission on redistribution lies,” said Deputy District Attorney Alex Goble at the commission meeting on May 18. He recommended that the district draw up a regulation for the redistribution of policies in the future, “so that we do not have to go through this process every ten years and re-create the wheel”.

Cooper is requesting payment of $ 125 an hour for about 40 hours of work, which will cost the county $ 5,000. Commissioner Maryboy pointed out that Cooper’s $ 5,000 charge pales in comparison to the millions in legal fees the county spent settling the Navajo nation’s lawsuit.

“We lost a lot of money. Not just the Navajos, but everyone in San Juan County, from the Spanish Valley to the river, Navajo Mountain and Aneth, ”said Maryboy. “$ 5,000 is nothing compared to what we lost.”

John David Nielson, San Juan District Administrator, spoke during the May 18 public comment period, claiming he was raising concerns as a citizen rather than a civil servant. Nielson was investigated for campaigning in 2019 after volunteers working with the ACLU of Utah found copies of a newspaper opinion article at polling stations in the Navajo nation during the 2018 district elections. Ultimately, no charges were brought against Nielson.

On May 18, Nielson referred to Shelby’s appointment to Grofman as an independent advisor. He argued that hiring Cooper, an expert on the Navajo Nation in the previous lawsuit, could pose a conflict of interest.

“I just hope the commission can go through the process to create transparency, to hire someone to look at the data and draw maps without any bias,” said Nielson.

District Attorney Kendall Laws’ legal opinion regarding Cooper’s recruitment suggested the establishment of a redistribution committee to assist Cooper in his work and for future election years.

“This district is made up of Hispanics, Navajo, Utes, and various nationalities. We have to look at it from all sides, ”said Maryboy. “I think this is the ticket. I would like the Commissioners to help me get Mr. Cooper to help us. “

Commissioners voted to hire Cooper, whose work is expected to begin in September following the release of the 2020 census results.

“It’s something to keep an eye on and see where it goes,” said Venugopal. “The big question is, given San Juan County’s historic problems with voter discrimination and indigenous voters who do not have access to equal representation, will we continue on the path of improvement or will some of this progress be reversed and lost?”

Comments are closed.