The state is sending two lawyers to San Juan County to monitor the Nov. 6 elections, which are expected to attract an unusually large number of new Navajo voters, Attorney General Paul Van Dam said.
It may be the first time the state has supervised a local election, according to officials in the attorney general's and lieutenant governor's offices, the latter of which oversees the electoral process."The state of Utah had to become actively involved," Van Dam said Thursday. But he stressed that his action does not mean San Juan County officials are doing anything wrong.
"I'm really not trying to take over from anyone or make them look bad in any way," Van Dam said. "Prudence tells me we ought to be there as a witness to the events and be available as a backup."
The two lawyers from the attorney general's office will be in San Juan County for up to three days to offer legal advice as well as monitor Election Day activities.
Legal advice from John Clark, counsel to the attorney general, and the other attorney selected for the trip will be available to both county and tribal officials.
Van Dam's decision comes one day after the release of a federal court order that details what the county must do to "ensure that the election process in San Juan County is fully and effectively accessible to Indian citizens."
The Justice Department has been keeping an eye on how San Juan County treats Navajo voters since a complaint was filed with the federal government in 1983.
The federal court order, which was released Wednesday and which requires the county to hire a bilingual voting rights coordinator, is an amendment to an agreement reached between the Justice Department and San Juan County in 1984.
That agreement was amended after the Justice Department monitored at least two elections in San Juan County to check for compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including last year's Olympic referendum.
This year, the San Juan County election has attracted national attention because of the number of Navajo candidates on the ballot as well as a massive voter registration drive among tribal members.
There have been allegations that the names of some Navajo voters have been removed from the electoral rolls and that residents of the reservation are being required to draw maps to prove they live within the county.
Deputy Lt. Gov. Dave Hansen said the San Juan County clerk has agreed to return the deleted names to the rolls. Hansen said any registration or residency disputes will have to be settled at the polls on Election Day.