Commission to address voting district boundaries
Leonard Gorman, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Office of Human Rights, made a presentation to the San Juan County Commission on October 24. Gorman had previously visited the commission on September 12 and presented his initial proposal for redistricting of the commission districts to change boundaries.
Gorman said his office has reviewed documents regarding a consent decree signed in 1984 in which the county was given a directive by the federal district court and Department of Justice and the current boundaries were drawn. Gorman expressed concern that the boundaries had not been redrawn since that time and feels that by not redistricting, the county is in opposition to the requirements of the US Voting Rights Act.
Gorman told the commission he had been unable to obtain a copy of the signed consent decree from the 1980’s or get any information substantiating that document.
County Clerk Norman Johnson said they are searching for a signed copy of the consent decree in old county files. Johnson presented a signed copy of the court’s acceptance of the county plan, and suggested that they may need to contact the US District Court in Salt Lake City to obtain a copy of the original decree.
Gorman presented the commission with preliminary analysis of the 2010 census data which shows the total population of San Juan County at 14,746, of which 7,431 identify as American Indian or 50.4 percent of the county population. The Caucasian population of 6,759 makes up 45.8 percent of the county.
Gorman said that he sees a need to redistrict because the population distribution in the three voting districts is out of proportion. Currently, according to Gorman’s report, one district has 791 more people than another and 492 more people than the third. Due to this, he said that redistricting must be done in order to bring the populations within the US Constitution’s equal population mandate.
It has been the stance of San Juan County that because the voting districts were established under federal consent decree, they are bound by that judgment and will continue to follow it until told otherwise by the courts.
A consent decree is a settlement that is contained in a court order. The court maintains jurisdiction over the case as they have done in the original case against San Juan County, to ensure that the settlement agreed to is followed.
According to Census data over the past 30 years, the population of the county has grown by 2,493 people but the ethnic distribution has changed significantly. The Anglo population made up 52 percent of the population in 1980 and 45 percent in 2010. The Native American population made up 46 percent of the population in 1980 and now makes up just over 50 percent of the county in 2010.
According to County Clerk Norman Johnson, it was not that the county did not want to redistrict, but did not see the need. He said that while the population has increased over time, the change in voting precincts has not deviated more than one percent from census to census. Johnson said the county is interested in looking at the changes based on the 2010 census numbers.
Commissioner Phil Lyman expressed concern over the perception that the commission is objecting to or resisting the idea of redistricting. Lyman said there is a need to look at the issue and pointed out that several county officials agree.
Gorman apologized for any misunderstanding of the county’s position. An article in the Navajo Times stated that the county is opposing the change, and quoted Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize as stating the Nation will not hesitate to take the county to court if they continue with the 1983 boundaries. Gorman said that they are already in litigation in New Mexico.
Gorman suggested that the county establish a redistricting committee to look at the issue and move forward. Commissioner Phil Lyman said this would be a good step as the issue merits research and the county has no opposition to looking into the need to redistrict.
Lyman made a motion to create a committee, which was seconded by Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy and approved.