Last week’s federal court ruling ordering Yakima to discard at-large citywide elections in favor of a more representative process prescribes a needed fix, but leaves much of the rest of the state underrepresented at the local government level. The vast majority of Washington cities use at-large voting systems. That’s democracy, but not the most representative democracy. Subtly, and sometimes intentionally, at-large elections leave distinct geographic communities completely unrepresented. It’s why Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Yakima case featured a modern example of racially polarized voting: a woman with a Latino name lost a 2013 school board election by 20 points even though her white opponent had withdrawn from the race.
Voting-rights advocates also point to nine central Washington counties where Latinos make up at least a third of the voting population but hold none of the 213 major elected city and county positions. Yakima’s status as the state’s poster child for such misrepresentation was solidified in 2012 when the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington chapter sued the city.