Navajo Nation Vice President speaks at the redistricting hearing in Bluff, Utah last month in November.
Published December 27, 2017
WINDOW ROCK – The Office of the President and Vice President (OPVP) celebrates the end of gerrymandering in Utah’s San Juan County with the new voting district boundaries set by the Utah Federal District Court on Dec. 21.
In 2012 the Navajo Nation filed suit claiming the current San Juan County Commission and School Board election districts were unconstitutional due to the County’s impermissible use of race in drawing the district lines to dilute the Navajo vote. At the time, Navajos were stacked into one district with 93 percent of the vote in San Juan County’s District 3. Meanwhile, District 1 and District 2 were 30 percent and 29 percent Navajo, respectively.
“This has been a hard-fought case by the Navajo Nation to create voting districts that are fair,” President Russell Begaye said. “I thank the district court for standing with the Navajo Nation to ensure that counties allow for equal participation. I also encourage constituents to use this opportunity to their advantage.”
Vice President Jonathan Nez said he made a strong case for the people to have equal representation as a Council Delegate and that gerrymandering within these districts neglects proper representation of majority populations.
“We had Navajo communities in Utah whose voices were drowned out by district lines that did not represent the majority populations,” Vice President Nez said. “The County and School Board districts shouldn’t discriminate against any population and that includes the Navajo people. Now we have voting districts that better reflect reality.”
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby ruled in favor of the Navajo Nation and eventually appointed Special Master Dr. Bernard Goftman to redraw the districts. The Court then held public meetings in recent months regarding the school board and county commission election districts to seek input from constituents on which of the proposed maps should be chosen. On Dec. 21, the final decision was made by the Court.
Estimates show that Navajos are the majority in San Juan Country. However, Navajos have never held a majority in San Juan County politics. With the new election districts, this all could change. OPVP urges leaders and citizens alike to make this decision meaningful and participate.