Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman writes, "San Juan County didn’t create institutionalized discrimination of Native Americans” (Aug. 16).
That may be. But San Juan County spent $1.1 million of taxpayer dollars aggressively defending a system that disenfranchised the Navajo and disproportionately favored white candidates.
There have been three lawsuits against the county, each with the goal to allow the Navajo residents in San Juan County to meaningfully participate in government. About 52% of the county's population is Navajo. A three-member County Commission governs the county. Until the United States sued the county in 1983, no Navajo had ever been elected to the County Commission.
The county entered into a consent decree and agreed to redraw the voting districts. But the redrawn districts established racially drawn boundaries and packed most Navajo residents into a single district of the three, even though Navajos make up more than half the county’s population. This diluted the Navajo vote and left the minority white population in control of county government.
Subsequent lawsuits addressed impediments to Navajo voting and the disqualification of a Navajo candidate for the commission. The county's racial gerrymandering of the Navajo vote was condemned by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who appointed a special master to fairly redraw the voting districts. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the decision to redraw the districts.
Lyman can say that San Juan County is all about inclusion and empowerment of the Navajo voter, but San Juan County’s steadfast resistance to allowing the Navajo citizens to have a meaningful vote says otherwise.
Walter F. Bugden Jr., Salt Lake City