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San Juan County: We aren't violating Navajos' voting rights

Published March 2, 2012 2:47 pm

Lawsuit • Navajos say updated voting districts are still discriminatory.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Round two has begun in the most recent legal tussle between the Navajo Nation and San Juan County over allegations that the voting rights of Utah Navajos are being abridged.

In a suit filed in January in U.S. District Court for Utah, the Navajo Nation argued that San Juan County is keeping Navajos from capturing a second seat on the three-member county commission by failing to redraw voting districts to reflect the 2010 U.S. Census. The suit alleges that county officials are packing a majority of Navajos into one of three voting districts to ensure non-American Indian majorities in the remaining two districts.

But in rebuttal to the claim, filed in February, San Juan County provided evidence that it indeed had updated the districts to better mirror the changing population dynamics across the county. County officials contend the populations of the three districts are now practically equivalent.

The Navajos, through their Salt Lake City-based attorney, Brian Barnard, have now filed an amended complaint that alleges that while some voting precincts were modified, it wasn't enough to cure the alleged violation of the 1973 Voting Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

San Juan County's three districts were created in a 1984 federal court consent decree for the purpose of electing commissioners. That was the outcome of an earlier legal battle by Navajos to gain representation at the county commission level.

Following that effort, Mark Maryboy became the first Navajo elected to the commission. His brother, Kenneth Maryboy, now holds that District 3 seat. Commission Chairman Bruce Adams represents District 1, and Phil Lyman represents District 2.

According to the Navajos, each district should now have a population of 4,915.

In court filings, San Juan County argued that it is legally bound to follow the 1984 decree but has modified voting precincts within the districts. According to its pleadings, District 1 has 5,061 people, District 2 has a population of 4,870 and District 3 has 4,815 residents.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has held that 'minor deviations from mathematical equality ... are insufficient to make out a prima facie case of invidious discrimination under the 14th Amendment ... ,' " the county's filing argues.

The case has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.





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