A historic election near Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah faces a legal challenge as Republicans have appealed a federal judge’s earlier ruling that allowed the eventual winner to be on the ballot.
At issue is whether Republicans in San Juan County gerrymandered three district seats to keep the slim majority of Navajo Democrats out of power.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby ruled last year they did. The court ordered new boundaries that gave Navajos a majority in two of the three districts.
Earlier this month, Navajo Democrat Willie Greyeyes won one of those seats, allowing Navajo Democrats to gain control of the county commission for the first time in more than a century.
The race garnered national attention.
But during an appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week, San Juan County attorney Jesse Trentadue argued the redistricting was unconstitutional and gave the Navajo Democrats an unfair amount of power.
“If you pack a super majority of Navajo, Democratic voters in districts, they’re gonna win,” he said. “And they did.”
Paul Spruhan, assistant attorney general for the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice, argued that prior to redistricting, county commissioners intentionally tried to weaken Navajo voters by loading them into one district.
“It was a blatant, racial gerrymander, that was the intention,” he said. “The record showed it was intentionally loaded. There was no other intent involved.”
The 10th Circuit Court did not give a timeline for its decision. Greyeyes was unavailable to comment before deadline.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado