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Originally published February 7, 2013 at 4:04 PM | Page modified February 7, 2013 at 4:04 PM

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Editorial: Washington needs Voting Rights Act

The Legislature should reform Washington’s election system to reflect the state’s growing minority population.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE proposed Washington Voting Rights Act is about true representation in local elections.

Lawmakers should pass House Bill 1413and send it to the governor’s desk.

Washington is known for progressive ideas, but it also faces another stark reality: Minorities in some parts of the state have little influence on important decisions that affect their schools, public safety, water use and land resources.

HB 1413 would allow individuals and groups to seek redress by challenging communities to switch to district-based elections. This is how congressional races are run. Why not municipal elections?

Washington’s voting history shows a pattern of lopsided outcomes because the vast majority of local elections are for at-large positions — meaning citizens vote citywide instead of for their specific neighborhood or section.

As a result, minority candidates often have a hard time getting elected.

Though Latinos make up more than 33 percent of the population in 10 counties across Central Washington, they hold less than 4 percent of local elected offices in those areas.

The Associated Press notes the city of Yakima is now 41 percent Latino, but voters there have never elected a Latino member to the City Council. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 2012 after council members refused to allow an initiative on the ballot that would have required them to run in districts, rather than citywide.

Later, voters also defeated an initiative to alter the status quo.

Reforms might be inconvenient, but they are necessary.

Under HB 1413, local jurisdictions also would be able to voluntarily change before outside groups mount legal battles.

Lawmakers must acknowledge the changing face of this state. The Washington Voting Rights Act is a chance to help members of minority groups ensure they have equitable political influence in the future.

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