Latino representation in the Yakima Valley and the Voting Rights Act were points of contention for the Washington State Redistricting Commission as it failed to meet a deadline to come up with new voting boundary maps, commissioners said Thursday.
The bipartisan commission failed to approve a plan before a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday. The redistricting process will be picked up by the Washington State Supreme Court.
The commissioners voted on an agreement that was then translated to legislative and congressional maps that they hope the court will consider.
The legislative map released by the commission Tuesday night unites the Yakama Nation in a single district and includes a Latino voter majority district in Central Washington that includes eastern Yakima County.
“The Yakima district in particular was really challenging because it wasn’t just trying to negotiate which communities would be involved in that district and what the Hispanic or Latino population would look like,” Commissioner Paul Graves said. “There was also substantial discussion, and I think it’s fair to say conflicting views, of what the law itself required.”
The commissioners disagreed publicly about whether a Latino voter majority district in the Yakima Valley was required for the map to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
Democrats Brady Piñero Walkinshaw and April Sims came to the conclusion that it was required, using analysis from UCLA voting rights project director Matt Barreto. Republicans Graves and Joe Fain used a different analysis and said drawing a Latino voter majority district would constitute racial gerrymandering.
Fain and Graves said they believe the agreed-upon map, which includes a Latino voter majority district, complies with the federal Voting Rights Act.
“I very much think it complies with the VRA, and I’m sure that there will be continued conversation about that,” Fain said. “But I would say that we’ve remained very flexible on trying to present options that would comply with the VRA, and I think this end result does that.”
In a new report, the UCLA voting rights project said the Latino voter majority District 15 does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.
“It appears this district was drawn to give it the appearance of being a VRA compliant district by hitting the 50% Latino threshold, but was crafted in such a way to ensure it would not elect Latino candidates of choice,” the report said.
A compliant district would allow Latino voters to elect candidates of their choice, the report said.
Walkinshaw said he urges the adoption of the maps and voted in support of them, but he said the question of compliance with the Voting Rights Act remains unresolved.
“I do think this is an area that will continue to be discussed,” Walkinshaw said.
Sims said she would leave the question of whether the map complies with the Voting Rights Act to legal scholars.
“I was motivated to try to deliver something for Yakima,” she said.
“I will support the community in Yakima in whatever steps they want to take.”
In the plan released by the commission, the city of Yakima would continue to be split between Districts 14 and 15, with some border changes. Selah moves from District 15 to 14, and Naches and Tieton would move into District 13.
District 14 covers the western part of Yakima County and all of Klickitat county. That includes Selah, the west side of Yakima, Wapato, Toppenish, White Swan and Goldendale. It no longer includes Skamania and Clark counties. That district is represented by Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, Rep. Chris Corry of Yakima and Rep. Gina Mosbrucker of Goldendale.
District 15 includes the eastern part of Yakima County and parts of Grant, Benton, Franklin and Adams counties. It includes the east side of the city of Yakima, Union Gap, part of Moxee, Sunnyside and Grandview. Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside and Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger would stay in District 15 with its new boundaries.
The map moves Rep. Jeremie Dufault of Selah from District 15 to District 14. Commissioner Graves said in the news conference that Dufault is one of a handful of incumbents displaced by the new map.
“It is unfortunate the redistricting commission wasn’t able to finish its work on time,” Dufault said in an email. “Now the Supreme Court will decide our state’s legislative districts. Until that happens, none of us can plan our futures. Hopefully the court acts soon.”
District 13 covers northwest Yakima County, along with Kittitas and Grant counties. It would include Terrace Heights, Tieton and Naches. It does not include Lincoln County as it did before. Sen. Judy Warnick of Moses Lake, Rep. Tom Dent of Moses Lake and Rep. Alex Ybarra of Quincy would remain in that district.
All state senators and representatives from Districts 13, 14 and 15 are Republicans.
Specific population breakdowns have not been released yet by the commission.
The Washington State Supreme Court has to adopt a redistricting plan by April 30 and follow the same statutory requirements required of the commission.
Commission Chair Sarah Augustine of White Swan, who is a nonvoting and nonpartisan member, said she has offered all of the commission’s resources to the court clerk, including access to public input, mapping and staffing resources.
“In our communication with the court, we’re asking them to carefully consider all of that public (input),” Augustine said.
She said she was disappointed the voting commissioners did not approve a redistricting plan by the deadline.
“I am so thankful to all of the folks in Yakima who trusted in the process and who participated openly and freely, and I believe their input is reflected in the plan on the website,” Augustine said in an interview.
Walkinshaw said the public comments and tribal consultations the commission considered were important, and the transmittal of that information to the court is important.
The four voting commissioners urged the court to adopt the plan released by the commission.