Proposed election boundaries subject of public hearings
by Bill Boyle, San Juan Record Editor
Conceptual plans have been released for new boundaries for the voting districts that 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 that argues that the current boundaries are 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.
Native Americans made up 50.4 percent of the population of San Juan County in the 2010 US Census. 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 insured that 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.
There are three proposed maps for the three commission districts, with all three maps having a northern, a southeastern and a southwestern district. The community of Blanding is generally split between the three districts under all three options. The three districts each include the same number of residents.
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 a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Dr. Bernard Grofman is an election district expert and teaches at the University of California at Irvine.