Federal judge restructures voting districts in county

Voting districts in San Juan County have been restructured by a federal judge.
The new boundaries create voting districts that maintain a Native American majority in two of the three commission districts and three of the five school board districts.
Commission and school board elections using the new boundaries are scheduled to take place for all eight voting districts in November, 2018.
On December 21, Federal Judge Robert Shelby signed the orders which approved the new voting boundaries.  It is the latest action that results from voting rights lawsuits filed against San Juan County by the Navajo Nation.
Shelby’s orders follow the recommendations of Dr. Bernard Grofman, a voting district expert from the University of California Irvine.
Grofman had been hired as a “Special Master” to redraw the voting district boundaries after Shelby ruled earlier that the existing voting district boundaries were unconstitutional.
It is expected that San Juan County will file an appeal of the ruling.
Grofman submitted a final recommendation after making minor adjustments to his preliminary recommendations.  The changes place each of the eight incumbents in separate voting districts.
Having new-found power at the polls will be local Native Americans, who now make up the majority of voters in two of the three commission districts and three of the five school board districts.
The 2010 Census shows Native Americans make up 50.4 percent of the total population in San Juan County.  Despite having a narrow majority of residents, Native American officials have never had a majority of seats on the Commission or school board.
Residents of the Blanding area are split between all three Commission districts, with Blanding City residents making up 24 percent of district 1 (currently represented by Bruce Adams) and 43 percent of district 2 (currently represented by Phil Lyman).
It is estimated that approximately 30 percent of Blanding area residents are Native Americans.
There are approximately 1,000 Blanding area residents who live outside of city limits. Generally, areas south and east of Blanding city limits are in district 3 (currently represented by Rebecca Benally). Areas west of Blanding city limits are generally in district 2, while areas northeast of Blanding city limits are in district 1.
District boundaries for the school board are similar in many respects to the current boundaries, with two districts that are predominantly Native American, two districts with a Native American minority, and a swing district that is 65.1 percent Native American. 
The swing district includes southern Blanding and White Mesa and extends all the way to the Arizona border near Mexican Water.  Bluff is not in the swing district boundaries.

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