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Navajo Community Gains Equal Opportunity at the Polls

Native News Online
(Photo/File photo)

Native Vote 2024. The San Juan County in New Mexico has settled a lawsuit that challenged the county’s 2021 redistricting map, which aimed to dilute the voting power of Navajo voters.

The map packed Navajo citizens into District 1, which had an 83% Native American Voting Age Population (VAP), while reducing the Native American VAP in District 2 below the level necessary to provide Navajo voters with an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, as required by Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. This meant Navajo voters had an equal ability to elect preferred candidates in just one out of five districts, despite Navajo citizens making up roughly 40% of the county’s total population.

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The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the UCLA Voting Rights Project (UCLA VRP), the ACLU of New Mexico, the law firm DLA Piper, and the Navajo Nation Department of Justice on Monday announced the voting rights victory. The groups brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, and individual Navajo voters in San Juan County.

The suppression of the voting power of the Navajo residents has made it harder to achieve important policy priorities, such as providing and maintaining critical infrastructure on Navajo Nation land.

The county agreed to settle the lawsuit by enacting a new map negotiated by the plaintiffs which ensures a more equitable distribution of the Navajo population, with 74% Native American VAP in District 1 and 70% in District 2. The new map will remain in place through the 2030 Census, with the two new Navajo opportunity districts first up for election in 2026. The voting rights victory is a testament to the tireless efforts of the Navajo Nation and its allies in standing up against injustice and on behalf of the rights of the Navajo people.

“The settlement we reached with San Juan County, NM, is a victory for the Navajo Nation and the Navajo People,” said Ethel Branch, Attorney General of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice. “In exercising our sovereign right, we secured justice for Navajo voters in San Juan County. For decades, and despite being the majority, our people were only able to elect one Navajo Commissioner in San Juan County. Now we have an opportunity to change that through more equal treatment of Navajo votes in the County redistricting process.”

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