Voting rights legislation proposed by Democratic lawmakers aims to boost election turnout for young and low-income voters and enhance representation in communities often left out in political affairs. One bill would allow local governments to change their local election processes without going through court; the other would extend the voter registration period and allow same-day in-person registration. Both bills have versions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two bills in the House were heard on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and the two bills in the Senate were heard on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Officials and student group leaders from Yakima showed strong support for two bills at the Senate version of the proposal’s hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 10 in Olympia.
Putting the power in the hands of local government has already proven more equitable in Yakima, said Dulce Gutierrez, deputy mayor of Yakima. In 2014, a federal court ordered the city to change its city council elections to a district-based system rather than an at-large system which the court said disenfranchised Latino voters. Many low-income and often minority voters in Yakima are divided by districts. The district-based voting, Gutierrez said, gave more of a voice to those historically disenfranchised.
Gutierrez said electing city council members by district has also helped more women get elected and emphasized the importance of diversity in leadership roles.
“When there isn’t diversity at the table there are going to be some people whose experiences are excluded while creating policy,” she said. “I truly believe in having a representative government and that means we need to have a balance of all genders, incomes, educational backgrounds, and experiences in life.”