Navajo Nation sues New Mexico county over redistricting map

February 15, 2022 GMT

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The Navajo Nation is suing San Juan County over a recently adopted map that will determine political boundaries for the northwestern New Mexico county through 2030.

The tribal government, its human rights commission and five tribal members claim that the five-member county commission violated the Voting Rights Act by approving a map that packs Native American voters into a single district.

The lawsuit filed last week states that the map approved by the commission in December deprives Native American voters of an “equal opportunity” to elect candidates of their choice in four districts despite them constituting almost 40% of the county’s total population.

The complaint filed in federal court also states that action by the commission adds to the history of racism and voter suppression that members of the Navajo Nation have faced in the county and in municipalities.

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Leonard Gorman, executive director of the human rights commission office, said in a statement that the map selected by county commissioners disenfranchises Navajo voters.

County spokesperson Devin Neeley declined to comment on the pending litigation.

County commissioners were presented with three maps in November featuring redrawn commission district boundaries, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission presented a fourth map that evenly distributed the Native American population across two districts. A fifth map presented by county staff and an outside firm contracted by the county was based on comments collected during a public hearing.

The complaint states that commissioners voted 4-1 in December to adopt the map that placed a high density of Native American voters into the southwestern portion of the county.

Gorman said the Navajo Nation’s priority is to maintain compliance with the Voting Rights Act and that the San Juan County Commission must respect the principals of redistricting when it comes to majority-minority districts.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to block the county from using the map in upcoming elections and order the commission to develop a new map.