Hearings Thursday will discuss voting boundaries
Preliminary conceptual plans have been released for new boundaries for the voting districts that are used to select members of the San Juan County Commission and the San Juan School Board.
The boundaries are being redrawn after a lawsuit was filed by the Navajo Nation which argues that the previous boundaries were unconstitutional.
Federal Judge Robert Shelby Federal and “Special Master” Dr. Bernard Grofman will take public comment on the possible voting district boundaries at hastily-called public hearings on November 16 in Monticello and Bluff.
The hearing at the Hideout Community Center in Monticello will begin at 10:30 a.m., while the hearing at the Bluff Community Center will begin at 3:30 p.m.
Maps showing the proposed boundaries of each option are available at the San Juan Record website, at sjrnews.com.
The judge has signaled that he intends to finalize the boundaries by December 15, so they will be in place for the 2018 elections.
As a result, a significant number of details will need to be worked out by December 15. There is a chance that all three commission seats and all five school district seats will be placed on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot.
The Navajo Nation sued San Juan County in 2012, arguing that the voting districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In the 2010 US Census, Native Americans made up 50.4 percent of the population of San Juan County. Despite these numbers, there has never been more than one Native American on the three-member Commission, or more than two Native Americans on the five-member school board.
The lawsuit argues that Native Americans in San Juan County were packed into voting districts that ensured they would not win a majority on either governing board.
Shelby previously ruled that the district boundaries should be adjusted. He recently rejected the adjusted voting boundaries that were established by San Juan County for the 2016 election.
The judge ruled that the new districts established by San Juan County for the 2016 elections were unconstitutional because they were drawn with race as the preponderant motive.
Dr. Bernard Grofman was hired to draw the new boundaries. He is an election district expert and teaches at the University of California at Irvine.
Grofman states that he avoided the “use of race as a preponderant criterion for redistricting”.
Grofman outlines several of the factors that complicate issues in San Juan County, including the small number of population centers in the county, and the “stark pattern of racial separation in the county.
Grofman writes, “These population and demographics facts impose considerable constraints on what is feasible without making race a preponderant factor in line drawing.”
There are three proposed maps for the three commission districts, with all three maps having a northern county, a southeastern county, and a southwestern county district. The three districts each include the same number of residents.
While Grofman states that race factors were not considered while drawing the boundaries, under all three options, the demographics of the proposed commission district boundaries will create a Native American majority in two of the Commission voting districts.
The northern district will have an 11.6 percent Native population in Option 1, an 8.8 percent Native population in Option 2, and a 11.8 percent Native population in Option 3.
The southwestern district will have a 78.7 percent Native population in Option 1, a 61.7 percent Native population in Option 2, and a 64.7 percent Native population in Option 3.
The southeastern district will have a 67.2 percent Native population in Option 1, an 86.1 percent Native population in Option 2, and a 79.9 percent Native population in Option 3.
The rough outline of the districts in all three options are similar. The options can be considered as variations of a single theme rather than three separate options.
The Blanding area is generally split between the three districts under all three options, even though the Blanding City limits are split between two of the districts in all three options.
The City of Blanding has an estimated population of 3,375, with a rough estimate of 1,000 additional people living outside of city limits but in the Blanding area.
In general, the homes of the existing commissioners are split between the three districts. However, Commissioner Bruce Adams and Phil Lyman would both be in the same district under option 1.
There are two proposed maps for the five school district boundaries. The school districts each have the same number of residents and are roughly built around the schools in the sprawling school system.
While the school districts will have fewer changes than the commission districts, there are some changes.
Grofman writes that the conceptual maps split the Navajo Nation into three separate districts “since the population in this southern portion of the county is in excess of what is needed for two school board districts.”
The proportion of Native American voters in the respective school voting districts will create a Native American majority in three of the five districts. That has been the case for several decades, even though there have never been more than two Native Americans on the school board.
District 1 (Monticello and north) will have a 6.2 percent Native population under both options.
District 2 (south of Monticello and north Blanding) will have a 24.8 percent Native population under both options.
District 3 (southeast Blanding, White Mesa and Bluff) will have a 58.4 percent Native population under Option 1, and a 65.2 percent Native population in Option 2.
District 4 (eastern county, including Montezuma Creek, Aneth, Cedar Point and Ucolo) will have an 83.8 percent Native population under both options.
District 5 (western county, including Navajo Mountain, Oljato and Mexican Hat) will have a 96.1 percent Native population under both option 1, and an 89.3 percent Native population in Option 2.
Under both scenarios, it appears as if current board members Merri Shumway and Lori Maughan both live in district #2. Similarly, it appears as if current board members Elsie Dee and Steve Black both live in district #3.
Attorneys for the Navajo Nation suggest that the judge is likely to force the county to pay the approximately $2.5 million in attorney fees for the lawsuits. The county paid the $350 an hour fee for the work of the “Special Master.”