In another move to differentiate themselves from the Republican-controlled Senate, House Democrats are pushing forward a measure that aims to enhance minority voting rights. The House is expected to vote next week on the measure called the Washington Voting Rights Act, which opens the possibility of court challenges to cities, counties and school districts to push them to switch from at-large to district elections in areas where large minority groups are present. The measure, like others in this short session, is expected to die in the Senate, a chamber controlled by a Republican-dominated coalition. This short legislative session is shaping into a bipartisan stall, where measures from opposite chambers aren’t going anywhere.
At the heart of the measure is the history of elections in Central and Eastern Washington — specifically Yakima County, where the American Civil Liberties filed a lawsuit last year against the city of Yakima. Forty-one percent of Yakima’s 91,000 residents are Latino, but the city has never elected a Latino member to its at-large city council.
In 2011, council members refused to put an initiative on a special ballot requiring that each of the seven members represent a specific district, and Yakima voters defeated an initiative to change the system in last year’s primary. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court under the federal Voting Rights Act, and the case is still pending.
The most recent example used by advocates is last fall’s race for a position in Yakima’s school board. A woman with a Latino name lost 60 percent to 40 percent to woman who was not campaigning and had dropped out of the race.