Washington’s Voting Rights Act is awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
About five years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington sued Yakima, arguing a new system of voting was needed if the sizeable number of Latinos in the city was ever going to have a shot at electing leaders who represented their interests. After years of costly litigation, a U.S. district judge’s order led Yakima to switch to district-based voting in 2015.
Now, Washington state is following Yakima’s lead.
Last week, the Washington Legislature approved its own Voting Rights Act intended to “promote equal voting opportunity.”
“The Legislature finds that electoral systems that deny race, color, or language minority groups an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice are inconsistent with the right to free and equal elections,” reads the final version of the bill.
The measure awaits a signature from Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, a supporter of the proposal. Once it’s signed into law, Washington will officially become the second state in the country to enact a Voting Rights Act. California approved similar legislation in 2002, which served as a model for Washington’s bill.
It’s a big win for advocates of the bill, such as the sponsor of the measure, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle. Supporters tried to pass the legislation for five consecutive years but were able to get the state Senate to approve it only after Democrats took control of the governorships and state Legislature last fall.
Proponents of the Voting Rights Act argue that the biggest winners will be the people and communities where elected officials better represent the entire area’s interests. They say a history of racially polarized voting — where minority voters are voting one way, and non‐minority voters are voting another — means certain municipalities are in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.”
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Originally written by Lilly Fowler