Citing a sense of urgency before upcoming 2012 elections and the likelihood that nothing will be done without legal action, the Navajo Nation has filed suit against San Juan County, Utah and its commissioners. The suit claims first, that the current county district boundaries deny members of the Navajo Nation an equal opportunity to elect representatives because the majority of Navajos live in one district. The suit further claims that because the current districts fall outside the acceptable population deviation percentages established by federal law, Navajo votes are not equal to the votes of others.
The United States Supreme Court has held that voter districting plans that have or create population variances greater than 10 percent, (as calculated by adding together the deviations from the average district size of the most under-represented and most over-represented districts), are unconstitutional.
The current districts were drawn based on 1980 Census information, and in accordance with a 1984 federal consent decree. Since then, the population has grown and changed. The 2010 census analysis shows that San Juan County has a total population of 14,746, of which 7,431 identify as Native American, or 50.4 percent of the population.
The current District 1 boundaries now encompass 5,347 people and 29.96 percent American Indian. District 2 has 4,557 people and is 29.21 percent American Indian. District 3, represented by Kenneth Maryboy (Navajo), has 849 residents and is 92.8 percent Navajo. As the districts are currently divided, according to the suit, the deviation is now 16.22 percent.
According to a press release from The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, the NNHRC “addressed the issue of malapportioned commission districts to San Juan County commissioners multiple times last year. NNHRC staff members have urged San Juan County commissioners at county meetings and through correspondence to address the various intricacies of redistricting including equal protection. San Juan County has not taken any action to layout a process to redistrict.”
District 1 Commissioner Bruce Adams told Indian County Today Media Network, “Navajos are appropriately represented. The districts still fall within the parameters of the consent decree. I still think they [Navajos] are fairly represented.”
In an interview with ICTMN, Brian Barnard, an attorney with the Utah Civil Rights & Liberties Foundation and counsel in this case for the Navajo Nation, says part of the issue is a misunderstanding of the 1984 consent decree. “When San Juan County was initially approached, they claimed the 1984 court order prevents them from reapportioning without going back to court. There is no such wording in the order. Then they came back and said there was no reason to reapportion because the populations were pretty close.”
According to the suit, and based on the 2010 Census, the ideal population for each of the three commission districts should now be approximately 4,915. A map provided by the Navajo Nation in the lawsuit would change the boundaries of the county commission districts so that the districts had populations as follows:
- District 1: 4,915 people with 77.74 percent American Indian
- District 2: 4,917 people with 67.52 percent American Indian
District 3: 4.914 people with 5.9 percent American Indian