The state Senate is considering new legislation to give localities more authority to hold elections by district. Senate Bill 6129, filed Tuesday by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, would change state law to allow all counties and cities to hold district elections for their councils or commissions if local officials or voters so choose. State law currently only allows charter cities such as Yakima to change their elections systems, but a number of nonchartered localities with increasing minority populations, such as Pasco, have sought to create districts to improve minority representation. Yakima is one of just 11 charter cities in the state.
While the bill would not affect Yakima, the effort comes less than a year after a federal judge found Yakima’s citywide voting system suppressed Latino interests in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The judge ordered Yakima to hold City Council elections by district, two of which are majority Latino. The city is currently appealing the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Other cities with increasing minority populations, such as Pasco and Wenatchee, have also taken note of the costs of the Yakima case. Yakima has spent nearly $1 million defending itself and is fighting a $2.8 million petition for legal costs filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which brought the lawsuit.
A bill dubbed the state Voting Rights Act contained a similar provision to allow redistricting, but is considered dead for the session by most observers in Olympia.