Reverberations from Yakima’s voting rights lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union are being felt across the state and in Olympia, where the state Attorney General’s Office is expected to release an opinion related to the issue. The opinion won’t have much, if any, impact in Yakima’s case. But it’s likely to be studied carefully in many other cities, especially Pasco. When Pasco officials saw how poorly Yakima fared in the ACLU lawsuit, they began drafting plans earlier this year to revamp their city’s election process in order to avoid a similar fate. Yakima has been ordered to change its election process by a federal judge who said its old election system violated federal election law by routinely suppressing Latino interests. Under the judge’s order, which is under appeal, Yakima City Council members would be elected by voters in their districts and would no longer be subject to citywide voting.
In the wake of that ruling, both Pasco and Wenatchee began examining their election processes. Like Yakima, both cities have substantial Latino populations. In Pasco, officials said their current system of citywide voting for candidates could be challenged in court for allegedly violating Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, just as what happened in Yakima.
As a result, the Pasco City Council last spring approved a plan that would create two citywide council positions and five district positions, two of which are home to a majority Latino population.