On Jan. 15, 2020, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) sent a letter to the Yakima County Commission notifying it that the current system for electing candidates to the county commission violates the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) by denying Latino voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the commission.
The WVRA allows voters to hold local governments accountable when an electoral system prevents communities of color from electing candidates of choice. The commission had 180 days from the date of notice to fix its electoral system. On July 13, 2020, CLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs because the county failed to respond to the notice letter that the CLC sent within that 180-day time period. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of Latino voters Evangelina “Bengie” Aguilar, Candy “Dulce” Gutierrez, Rogelio Montez and Susan Soto Palmer, and OneAmerica, the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington, and in partnership with MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, a Washington-based civil rights and immigration law firm.
CLC and the parties it represents have called on the commission to adopt an alternative election system to remedy the WVRA violation. One option would be ranked choice voting (RCV). RCV would give minority voters equal opportunity to elect one of the three county commissioners. Learn more about the benefits of ranked-choice voting (RCV)."
What’s At Stake
The Latino community makes up almost half of Yakima County and one-third of its citizen voting age population. But only one Latino candidate has ever won a seat on the three-person county commission, and candidates supported by the Latino community are rarely elected to any political office in the county.
This is because Yakima County structures its elections in a way that favors candidates backed by white voters while disadvantaging candidates backed by Latino voters. The county uses a “district-based top-two primary system,” which means that two candidates are initially selected by voters in each geographic district. But the three commissioners are then chosen in an “at-large general election,” which means that a majority of the entire county—rather than voters in each district—elects all three members of the commission.
Candidates backed by the Latino community rarely get enough countywide support to win even a single seat. Meanwhile, candidates preferred by white voters, who rarely support Latino-backed candidates, often win every seat. As a result, Latino voters are not equally able to elect candidates of choice and the county commission fails to reflect the full diversity of views and people in the community.