A group of House Democrats re-introduced a bill this session that would affect how local governments run their elections in certain political subdivisions. Known as the Washington Voting Rights Act, House Bill 1413 is intended to address underrepresentation of minority groups in local government. The bill prohibits unfair elections in which members of a protected class (members of a racial, ethnic or language minority) are unable to influence an election and/or receive adequate representation in local political subdivisions. To affect how elections are operated in local government districts, persons of a minority group must provide evidence that polarized voting has occurred and that members of a protected class, while maybe a smaller percentage of the total electorate, do not have an equal opportunity to influence election results. Polarized voting may be observed when there is a disparity between the candidate chosen by voters of a protected class or by those of the remainder of the electorate.
To remedy the issue, under the proposed legislation, political subdivisions face two options: they can transition from at-large to district-based elections or, if they do not make the switch, they risk being sued by members of the protected class that have notified the political subdivision of their grievance.
At-large elections typically occur when voters of a jurisdiction vote for candidates living within that jurisdiction. Supporters of the bill take issue with these types of elections because they say it limits the minority representation because it does not require candidates to live within geographic areas where the majority of civilians are of a protected class.
District-based elections would require that political subdivisions be divided into different geographic districts that each contains majorities of members of different protected classes. By doing this, said supporters, minorities will have a greater chance of influencing local elections. Political subdivisions include any city, county, fire protection district, school district, public utility district or port district.
Mountlake Terrace Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-1st District) sponsored HB 1413 because he believes there has been mounting evidence of polarized voting in Washington during recent years.