After two years of litigation, a federal judge has ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union in its voting rights lawsuit against the city of Yakima, bringing potentially dramatic change to Yakima city politics. In a summary judgment issued Friday afternoon, the judge said the ACLU’s case was strong enough to vacate a trial and should move directly to the remediation phase, where both the ACLU and the city will present proposals for changing the way City Council members are elected. The ACLU already has proposed all-district voting for the seven council members. The ruling determined that Yakima’s current election system violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the Latino community vote.
“In the final analysis, there is only one rational conclusion to be drawn” from the evidence provided by the ACLU, federal Judge Thomas O. Rice wrote in a 67-page opinion. “That the non-Latino majority in Yakima routinely suffocates the voting preferences of the Latino minority.”
Yakima currently elects council members under a hybrid system of at-large and district voting, a system which has been in place since 1976. Four of the council members are elected in districts during the primary, but all seven seats are voted on at-large in the general election.
Opponents said the system has allowed a pattern of racially polarized voting to prevent Latinos from being effectively represented on the council.