The Washington Voting Rights Act (HB 1413), authored with an eye toward changing Yakima’s City Council elections, was approved today by the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, would likely be approved in a floor vote before the state House of Representatives but would have more difficult odds of passing the mostly Republican-controlled Senate.
House Democrats announced that the bill was one of five pieces of committee-approved legislation aimed at increasing voter access and turnout.
“Our country was founded on equal opportunity and it is vital that we make sure that everyone has a voice and an equal shot in our elections,” Moscoso said in a news release.
The voting rights act would encourage cities, towns and other local jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to district elections. It affords greater ability to ethnic minority residents to take legal action to force changes in election formats if they can show a history of racially polarized voting.
The bill exempts municipalities with populations of less than 1,000 and school district with less than 250 people.
The proposal was originally introduced in the 2012 legislative session but gained little traction. Since then advocacy groups have pushed harder for the measure, which has received greater public attention this session.
Last week, The Seattle Times editorial board endorsed the state Voting Rights Act, citing Yakima’s history of elections as an example of where it could force change. Yakima’s population is 41 percent Latino, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, but no Latino has ever been elected to the City Council.