The city of Yakima filed a 33-page brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday in support of arguments that could effectively unravel the city’s new district elections system.

The friend of the court brief, or amicus brief, was filed in Evenwel v. Abbott, a voting rights case out of Texas that seeks to further define the court’s principle of “one person, one vote.”

The plaintiffs’ and Yakima’s attorneys argue state and local election districts should be drawn based on eligible voters, rather than the widely accepted use of total population. They say the state of Texas and city of Yakima present relevant challenges to the currently accepted method because both have large noncitizen populations ineligible to vote, diluting the influence of voters in districts with more citizens of voting age.

Yakima’s new election districts, ordered by a federal judge in February, don’t deviate much in total population but have drastically different estimated populations of citizens of voting age.

District 2, for example, a Latino majority district, has a population of 13,358 and District 7 has a population of 13,283. But District 2 only has 5,527 citizen residents of voting age, compared with 9,823 in District 7, about 44 percent greater.

“This Court should require that the drafter of a redistricting plan apportioned with total population should strive to equalize the (citizen voting age population) among each district insofar as possible,” Yakima’s contracted attorney, Francis Floyd of Seattle, said.

The issue was also part of Yakima’s defense when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in the Eastern District Court of Washington, and it was summarily rejected by Judge Thomas Rice. In an August ruling, Rice said the city failed to show how an imbalance in voting-age population is relevant to the “one person, one vote” principle.

Rice justified his opinion in part based on a 1991 decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court where Yakima’s appeal would be heard after a potential Supreme Court ruling — “which flatly rejects the argument that voting districts must be equalized on the basis of eligible voters rather than total population.”

Critics of the voting age population standard also point to a lack of data to create precise counts or estimates.

The total population is gathered directly by the U.S. Census Bureau, but the potential eligible voter population is determined by the federal American Community Survey, 
which samples a
percent of the population annually and derives an estimate.

In a previous interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic, Floyd acknowledged that citizen voting population estimates are “totally inexact.”

But in Yakima’s brief with the Supreme Court, the city argues the estimates can substantively “gauge the severity of electoral inequality among districts.”

“Requiring that a redistricting plan avoid an unnecessarily extreme (citizen voting-age population) imbalance could be practically implemented,” Floyd wrote.

The case could also impact or strike down Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the part of the law used successfully by the ACLU to sue Yakima and change its City Council elections.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Texas case this fall and issue a ruling by June 2016.

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