Citing the disenfranchisement of Latinos under Yakima’s current council elections system, a federal judge on Tuesday ordered the city to conduct future elections using seven geographic districts — including two majority Latino districts. Under U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice’s ruling, all seven City Council positions would be placed on the ballot this year and candidates would be elected by voters solely from within their district. Under the ruling, candidates would no longer be voted on citywide. The ruling comes in a voting rights lawsuit filed more than two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Latino residents. Rice, of the Eastern District Court of Washington, ruled in August that the city’s hybrid election system of at-large and district voting routinely “suffocates” the will of Latino voters.
The ruling soundly rejected the city of Yakima’s concepts for revamping the election system, while accepting the ACLU’s proposed revisions outright without changes. If the city seeks to do so, it has 30 days to file an appeal.
Under its proposal, the city had requested all current council members be allowed to finish out their terms. Four of those terms expire this year, while three were scheduled to end in 2017.
In order to preserve the current staggered election plan for council seats, the even-numbered district seats would be elected to two-year terms this year and to four-year terms in 2017, according to the ruling.