Around the nation, voting rights for people of color are under attack. But in central Washington, an historic advance for Latino voters is taking place in the wake of a legal victory by the ACLU. In the City of Yakima, Latinos account for approximately one-third of the voting-age population and approximately one-quarter of its citizen voting-age population. Yet, in 37 years, no Latino has ever been elected to the Yakima City Council. In the absence of Latino representation on the City Council, issues of interest to the Latino community in Yakima have been met with indifference. Now things are changing in this agricultural community of 93,000. Five Latino City Council candidates are on the ballot in Yakima’s November general election. Two of the five candidates are running in the same district, so that district is certain to have a Latino representative. However, it is possible that one, two or three other Latinos may also be elected.
This is the result of successful lawsuit brought in 2012 by the ACLU of Washington under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit contended that Yakima’s at-large election system diluted the voting strength of Latinos and deprived them of the ability to elect candidates of their choice to the Yakima City Council.
In an at-large election system, all council members are elected by a majority of voters citywide. In practice, an at-large system can weaken the political power of particular groups, especially ethnic or racial groups concentrated in a specific part of town.