A renewed effort to push for a state Voting Rights Act began officially Friday with the introduction of House Bill 1413.
The proposal would make it easier to challenge a local government’s elections format in court if evidence of racially polarized voting exists. Supporters of the measure have said publicly in the past that Yakima’s hybrid of district and at-large City Council elections would be more vulnerable to a legal challenge under such a law.
A similar proposal gained little traction in the 2012 Legislature, but supporters such as bill sponsor Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington have continued to advocate for it.
In August, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of Yakima in U.S. District Court in Yakima on behalf of several residents, including former City Council candidate Rogelio Montes. They allege the city’s current elections format allows racially polarized voting to disenfranchise the city’s Latinos, which would violate Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.
That case is set for trial later this year in September.
Latinos now make up 33 percent of the city’s voting-age population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, but no Latino has ever been elected to the City Council. The only Latino to serve, local attorney Sonia Rodriguez-True, was appointed to the seat and lost a close election to current council member Dave Ettl in 2009.
Yakima voters approved the current elections system in 1976, after years of voting for all City Council at-large candidates. The system has three seats at-large and created four districts with primary elections held only for district voters before going to a general election vote.