Oct 20 OneAmerica

OneAmerica organizer Mary López, left, answers a question for Juventina Perez as they prepare to make phone calls promoting the Latino vote Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, at OneAmerica, 507 S. Third St. in Yakima, Wash.

The 2022 election season just got a lot more interesting.

Tuesday’s announcement that Yakima County is settling a lawsuit alleging the county’s voting protocols violated the state’s 2018 Voting Rights Act means all three seats on the Yakima County Commission are up for grabs in 2022.

It also means Latinos will have a real say in who’s elected.

Four local plaintiffs — along with OneAmerica, a Seattle-based group that advocates for immigrants, and Campaign Legal Center from Chicago — filed the lawsuit, which had been expected to hit the courtroom this week. The suit argued that the county’s system for choosing county commissioners dilutes the Latino vote.

Up to now, the county commission has been divided into three geographic districts. Candidates square off by district in the primaries, but final winners are determined by at-large votes that include the whole county.

The lawsuit, however, contended that at-large votes can overwhelm the will of individual county commission districts. In Yakima County, the plaintiffs noted, Latinos are the majority, but because ethnic makeup can vary significantly from community to community, at-large voting could mute their political wishes.

It’s a convincing argument. Yakima County has elected just one Latino commissioner in the past 23 years — and the board’s been all white since 2006.

On the other hand, the group’s preferred solution — ranked choice voting, in which voters rate their candidate preferences from a central list — was a no-go with county officials.

“Ranked-Choice Voting can distort election outcomes because it forces people to cast votes for a list of candidates they do not support,” commissioners Ron Anderson, LaDon Linde and Amanda McKinney said in a joint statement issued Wednesday.

“Voters in Yakima County should not be forced to cast a vote for anyone who is not their first choice,” the statement continued. “The commissioners made sure that this scheme was not successful in Yakima County.”

In the end, the settlement calls for a new districting plan that both sides agree will strengthen Latino voting power. It also protects the county from further voting-rights lawsuits for the next four years. So everybody walks away able to claim something of a win.

Especially Yakima County voters.

Given the diversity of our Valley, it’s tough to explain why so few of the people running its political institutions ever look like the people they serve.

Maybe it hasn’t been as blatant as the attacks on voting rights we’ve seen metastasizing across the country like a cancer in recent months, but Yakima County’s system is hard to defend.

Fine — rules that result in anyone’s say being lost or lessened shouldn’t be defended anyway. They should be changed.

The settlement will likely mean neglected corners of the county will get more attention — and more services, former Yakima City Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez told reporters at a Wednesday news conference.

“We can fight for bilingual access, increase investments in the east side and a COVID response that leaves no one behind,” said Guitierrez, who was one of three Latinas elected to office after a similar suit against the city of Yakima six years ago.

We think the changes to come will be for the better, and we’re glad to see Yakima County is doing the honorable and democratic thing here.

Even if they needed a little legal encouragement to do it.