San Juan County is asking a federal court to finalize a recent decision on voting districts. County leaders want to appeal the ruling, as the county’s Native American majority applauds it.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued his decision a few days before Christmas. It basically requires San Juan County to hold a special election next year using new district boundaries for three commission seats and five school board posts. And it’s aimed at reflecting the Navajo majority.
“People are very excited,” says Mark Maryboy, who was talking about the decision with other Navajos on Wednesday in Monument Valley. “They want to try to get some Navajo candidates to run for the county commission, school board and other county positions.”
Maryboy held the county commission seat targeted for Native Americans for 16 years.
“And the vote was always 2-to-1,” he says. “I can tell you that there’s a lot of opposition as far as the county serving the Navajo population.”
The question of racial gerrymandering has dogged the county for decades. It boils down to the principal of “one person, one vote,” just like ongoing African American voting rights cases across the country.
But, in rural San Juan County, it’s Native Americans who say they’re the victims of discrimination. The Navajo Nation filed suit in this case, saying the districts were unconstitutional.
But San Juan County commissioners disagree, and they’re asking the court for a final judgement so they can begin their appeal.
“We are doing a good job - San Juan County’s bent over backwards to make sure that everybody has a vote and a voice in county government,” says San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman.
“There’s no intention to exclude anyone because of their race or political persuasion or anything else. We just want people to participate in the elections, and we’ve done everything that we could to make sure that was the case.”
Lyman contends it's the court’s decision last week that’s unfair. And, in a statement Wednesday, commissioners said the ruling makes their elections a political football.
Note: The original version of this story had an incorrect photo. The corrected photo was added 12/28/17.
The commission-district maps:
The school board district maps: