The American Civil Liberties Union today will announce details of what it calls a major voting rights lawsuit against the city of Yakima. “It’s something we’ve been looking at for a while,” said Seattle-based ACLU spokesman Doug Honig, who otherwise declined to release any details of the lawsuit prior to today’s announcement. Since 2010, the ACLU has made several threats to sue the city under the federal Voting Rights Act, most recently after voters rejected an August 2011 proposition that would have forced City Council elections to be voted on by district. The council members are currently elected under a hybrid system of at-large voting for three seats and district-based voting for four seats. District selections only occur in the primary, but all seven seats are voted on at-large in citywide general elections. Voting rights advocates have argued there’s enough evidence to prove the city has a history of racially polarized voting that is suppressing candidates who represent minority interests. “It’s very likely,” ACLU legal director Sarah Dunne said about the possibility of a lawsuit in August 2011 when voters turned thumbs down on district only voting.
More than 58 percent of voters (5,832) rejected the proposition, while about 41 percent (4,138) voted in favor. Proponents said the measure was needed for the council to adequately represent the city’s diverse makeup, citing the fact that no Latino has ever been elected to the City Council despite Latinos making up more than 40 percent of Yakima’s population.
But conservative opponents labeled the effort an attempt by local Democrats to elect more of their own kind to the body, which is nonpartisan. They also criticized language in the proposition that would have put 10-year term limits on council members. Council members are elected to four-year terms, meaning members would have had to resign in the middle of their third term had the proposition been approved.