In a decision that could radically change politics in San Juan County, Utah, a federal court has upheld new voting districts drawn in response to a lawsuit by the Navajo Nation.
The Navajos sued the county in 2012, saying the existing districts for the three-person county commission and the five-member school board were racially biased. They noted that although the county’s population is about half Native American, no more than one Navajo at a time had ever been elected to the commission. They said that was because nearly all the Navajo population was stacked into one district, while whites held a comfortable majority in the other two districts. In 2016, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby agreed that the districts were unconstitutional. When the county and Navajos could not agree on new ones, an outside expert was called in to redraw the lines. On Thursday, Shelby upheld the expert’s boundaries. Shelby also ruled that elections for the county commission and school board must be held in November 2018, and the new boundaries will be applied in that vote. Two of the county-commission districts and three of the school-board districts now will have Indian majorities. In a statement, Navajo Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates called the ruling “a significant step in the right direction for Navajo people who reside in San Juan County, Utah, and for the county as a whole.”