The lawsuit alleges that the actions violate the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
After outlining four separate claims against the county, the lawsuit asks that San Juan County reapportion the districts.
The Navajo Nation is listed as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with six San Juan County residents. It will be argued before Federal Judge Robert Shelby.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs include Navajo Nation Attorney General D. Harrison Tsosie, Steven C. Boos of Durango, CO, and Eric P. Swenson of Salt Lake City, UT.
A copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded here.
A series of lawsuits in the past resulted in a number of significant changes in the way elections are carried out in San Juan County. In 1990, under the oversight of the US Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights (OCR), at-large voting for Commissioners and School Board members was eliminated in favor of separate election districts.
Since that time, the three-member County Commission has included an Anglo from the Blanding area, an Anglo from the Monticello area and an Indian from the Montezuma Creek – Aneth area.
In addition, the five-member School Board has included three Anglos from the Blanding and Monticello areas and two Indians from the Navajo Nation portions of the county.
On both boards, an Anglo majority has always held the balance of power. The lawsuit suggests that the balance of power is fundamentally unfair since more than 52 percent of the current population of San Juan County residents are Indians, including more than 50 percent of voting-age residents.
Anglos make up the majority of voters in the districts that have retained Anglo representatives, while Indians make up the majority of voters in the districts represented by Indians.
While adjustments to voting districts across the country are generally made after each US Census, the lawsuit states that the San Juan County districts were not adjusted after the 1990 and 2000 Census were completed.
After the 2010 Census, the county made slight changes to the districts, but did not change the boundaries of the voting precincts.
San Juan County officials have stated that they have strictly followed the guidelines set up by the OCR after the lawsuits in the 1980s. While considering the changes after the 2010 Census, they expressed a concern that adjusting precinct boundaries may violate the terms of the prior court settlement.