Pasco

Downtown Pasco business district looking south on North Fourth Avenue toward Clark and Lewis streets intersections. 

PASCO — Franklin County commissioners are out of time to change their voting districts, now a judge will do it for them.

Gabriel Portugal, Brandon Paul Morales and Jose Trinidad Corrall along with the League of United Latin American Citizens are claiming the county’s districts discriminate against the county’s Latino voters.

The UCLA Voting Rights Project sent the county a notice more than six months ago, warning the commissioners to adjust their districts to better represent the county’s population and how commissioners are elected or face a lawsuit.

“Our clients and the UCLA Voting Rights Project gave additional notice over 180 days ago about this violation and during that period the county did not make the changes required by law,” said Chad W. Dunn, the project’s legal director. “This lawsuit ensures fair and equal voting in Franklin County and we are thankful for our clients in taking this courageous action.”

The suit was filed this week in Franklin County Superior Court in Pasco asking for the county commissioner district be redrawn to “not dilute the vote of Latino citizens.”

It also asks a judge to stop the county’s current system of having district elections during the primary and countywide elections in the general election.

District discussion

While the three county commissioners has spent several executive sessions talking with their attorney John Safarli about redistricting, no changes or plans to make the changes were made.

The commissioners discussed forming a committee to redraw the voting boundaries, but nothing came of it.

And they haven’t suggested anything publicly that focuses on the two complaints raised.

Commissioner Brad Peck warned fellow commissioners during public sessions of the looming, costly lawsuit if the county didn’t take action.

He said the predominately Latino sections of east Pasco, for example, were split so voters are in three commissioner districts.

The UCLA Voting Rights Project argues a large portion of the Latino community is spread across all of the commissioners’ voting districts, making it hard for Latino voters to pick a candidate in the primary.

And if a candidate manages to clear the first hurdle, the person then needs to win in a general election that includes the entire county, rather than voters from just that district. That has led to a series of candidates supported by Latinos losing in the general election, according to the group.

They say that violates federal and state voting laws. The state allowed counties, cities and other government agencies to fix those issues as part of the 2018 Washington Voting Rights Act.

Before the group could file suit, it needed to give the county six months to fix the issue.

Since nothing was done, the next step was court.

A similar legal challenge in recent years in Pasco and the city of Yakima resulted in wholesale changes in the voting districts and the election of three Latino members to the Pasco City Council.

Of the 95,200 people living in Franklin County, U.S. Census Bureau data shows nearly 54% are Hispanic. And Latinos make up more than a third of the voting age population.