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.
On Jan. 15, 2020, 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. This letter was sent 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.
The WVRA allows voters to hold local governments accountable when an electoral system prevents communities of color from electing candidates of choice. The commission has 180 days from the date of notice to fix its electoral system. After that time, any affected voter may file a lawsuit to pursue a remedy.
CLC and the parties it represents have called on the commission to adopt ranked-choice voting (RCV). RCV would enable every voter to rank preferences for more than a single candidate. It would give minority voters equal opportunity to elect one of the three county commissioners. Learn more about the benefits of ranked-choice voting (RCV).