Utah county declines appeal in Navajo voting rights case

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah county will not further challenge its newly drawn voting districts that led to the county’s first majority-Navajo commission getting elected.

San Juan County commissioners voted July 29 against appealing the recent ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the districts in the county that overlaps with the Navajo Nation, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The federal appeal was prompted by a lower court decision that found the former district boundaries amounted to racial gerrymandering and violated the rights of Navajo voters. Navajo voters make up slightly more than half the population of the county.

Republicans had contested the new districts used in last year’s election. Officials in Blanding, the largest town in the county, claimed the new districts disenfranchised residents because it split the city into separate districts.

The appeals court rejected that argument, finding the new boundaries fair.

If the county had decided to continue challenging the ruling, it could have sought a review by all 10th Circuit judges or appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, the case heads to a state court judge who will assess fees to the county.

Interim county administrator David Everitt said paying attorney fees will “require some creative thinking” if the amount reaches more than a few hundred thousand dollars. The county’s payment options include raising property taxes, debt service financing or borrowing from reserve funds, Everitt said.

The county has already paid $1.1 million to its lawyers between 2015 and 2018.

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