Tribune editorial: San Juan election is historic, so it needs to be legitimate

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Gary Guymon and Boyd Lopez, a member of the White Mesa Utes, share a laugh during the meeting last year in Bluff in which San Juan County residents were presented with proposals of the newly redrawn county commission and school board districts.

Admittedly, this has been a rush job. Judge Robert Shelby upended San Juan County politics last December with his order to set up new electoral districts for the county commission and board of education.

Shelby insisted that San Juan couldn’t go another November without holding a legitimate election that gives Indian voters their due. The county’s two most important elected bodies were racially gerrymandered. It was obvious, even though it had gone on for decades.

It was a tall order for Utah’s largest county, where thousands live far from paved roads and drive miles to pick up their mail. It’s not surprising that the county is still scrambling to place every eligible voter in the right districts.

Of course, it hasn’t helped that county officials fought the change at every step. They’ve appealed to stop and/or reverse Shelby’s decision, and the county clerk tried to bump Navajo county commission candidate Willie Grayeyes off the ballot before another federal judge made the county put him back on.

Now, the Navajo Nation is asking the state of Utah to investigate claims that as many as one in four Navajos in the county have been placed in the wrong voting precincts. With election day less than two months away, there is little time left to get it right before sending people the right ballots.

It’s time for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to act. As the chief overseer of elections in Utah, he needs to use the full powers of the state to ensure that all San Juan votes will be appropriately counted.

That's not an assumption the county has failed. County officials are right that Shelby had already ruled on similar complaints and found that the county was making a good-faith effort to put people in the right precincts.

But San Juan’s reality is that this election will be tough for the losers to handle, regardless of who the losers are. San Juan's elections need unassailable integrity if the county has any chance of mending its divisions. There is no way the county can provide that on its own. Too much baggage. Too much history.

Cox, on the other hand, has both the independence and the respect to give that election the legitimacy it needs.

We live in an age where election integrity can’t be assumed. Step up, Lt. Gov. Cox, and put state people on the ground in San Juan County. This rush job needs help fast.