The American Civil Liberties Union announces voting rights suit in Yakima on Wednesday August 22. As previously mentioned in this column, more than 40% of Yakima’s Hispanic population have no Hispanic city council representative. Thirty years of immigration have changed the ethnic mix of Yakima but political representation in city council does not reflect that change. There are several contributing factors but an odd “at large” election system is seen as a significant barrier to realization of equal representation. Only three of seven council seats are chosen from districts the candidates reside in. Four seats are voted in “at large” which means majority populations can decide who represents minority districts. The result of this at large system is that some districts have no council person living in that district. Three council districts have all seven council person in residence. That isn’t equal representation it’s majority oppression.
Yakima majority voters are generally in favor of keeping the system as is. A recent initiative to require city council candidates to live in their district was voted down. But the majority is not legally allowed to negate minority rights. That’s what the Voting Rights Act is all about. While it is hoped that an end to the at large election will change the ethnic make-up of the council to better reflect the general population, there will be more to do.