Editorial: How to fix Yakima’s racially polarized elections
Yakima city officials should not appeal a court ruling calling for district-based elections. And state lawmakers should follow suit by protecting small populations from voter discrimination.
Seattle Times Editorial
Last week’s federal court ruling ordering Yakima to discard at-large citywide elections in favor of a more representative process prescribes a needed fix, but leaves much of the rest of the state underrepresented at the local government level.
The vast majority of Washington cities use at-large voting systems. That’s democracy, but not the most representative democracy.
Subtly, and sometimes intentionally, at-large elections leave distinct geographic communities completely unrepresented. It’s why Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Yakima case featured a modern example of racially polarized voting: a woman with a Latino name lost a 2013 school board election by 20 points even though her white opponent had withdrawn from the race.
Voting-rights advocates also point to nine central Washington counties where Latinos make up at least a third of the voting population but hold none of the 213 major elected city and county positions.
Yakima’s status as the state’s poster child for such misrepresentation was solidified in 2012 when the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington chapter sued the city.
Though Latinos make up a third of Yakima’s voting-age population, the city has never elected an at-large Latino council member.
Yakima should abandon any notion of a costly appeal.
Instead, the council, which meets Thursday, should follow the court directive to come up with a remedial districting plan by the Oct. 3 deadline.
Legislators should also rectify this un-American disparity, too common in the state, and pass the Washington Voting Rights Act, which empowers local jurisdictions to solve problems of voter exclusion at the local level.
The act won’t mandate district elections, but would give municipalities the option to voluntarily protect against excluding the voting influence of minority communities.
Seattle voters took a bold step toward district elections last year.
The Legislature should provide a comparable remedy for the entire state.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).