Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and co-counsel, the UCLA Voting Rights Project and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), are representing individual Latino voters and the Southcentral Coalition of People of Color for Redistricting in a federal lawsuit challenging the state legislative map drawn by the Washington State Redistricting Commission (commission) as having the intent and effect of diluting the voting power of Latino voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
Washington’s Yakima Valley and Pasco regions are home to a large Latino voting population, and elections in the area routinely exhibit high levels of racially polarized voting. In drawing a new state legislative district map following the release of the census data in 2021, the commission was aware that a majority-Latino state legislative district in the area that allows Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice was required under the VRA. Instead, the commission configured legislative district 15, which includes parts of the Yakima Valley and Pasco, to appear to be a Latino opportunity district. As drawn by the commission, district 15 has just a 50.02% Latino citizen voting age population (LCVAP), and excludes adjacent active Latino voters, instead including areas with lower Latino voter turnout and a large number of rural white voters. In addition, district 15 is up for election in a non-presidential year, which election data shows results in lower Latino voter turnout. Election results (and analysis provided to the commission) confirm that the district is unlikely to allow Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the legislature in violation of the VRA.
The commission could have avoided creating a façade Latino opportunity district, as it is possible to draw alternative configurations of district 15 containing a higher LCVAP percentage and which would provide a real opportunity for Latino-preferred candidates to be elected to the state legislature. Further, at least one of the commissioners has admitted that the commission’s legislative district 15 will not elect Latino candidates of choice.
On Jan. 18, 2022, CLC and partners filed a complaint alleging that the plan has the intent and effect of diluting Latino voting strength in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Plaintiffs ask for the plan to be enjoined and the court to set a schedule for the adoption of a plan that includes a state legislative district in the Yakima Valley region that does not dilute the voting strength of Latino voters.
In the past decade, a number of successful lawsuits under the VRA and the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) have required several jurisdictions in the Yakima Valley region to reconfigure their election systems and district maps so as to not dilute Latino voting strength. For example, both the City of Yakima and City of Pasco did so after suits were filed under the federal VRA.
More recently, CLC and co-counsel MacDonald Hoague & Bayless brought a suit against the at-large system of election used in Yakima County, which diluted the voting strength of the county’s Latino voters. This was the first case ever brought under the WVRA. CLC and co-counsel obtained a historic settlement resulting in changes to the county’s election system that will for the first time allow Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice to the county board. In addition, Latino voters are currently challenging Franklin County’s election system as diluting Latino voting power under the WVRA.
These lawsuits show that the large population of Latino voters in the Yakima Valley routinely experience vote dilution, and the suits have developed voluminous evidence of the high levels of racially polarized voting and discrimination faced by Latino voters. The repeated pattern of vote dilution in the region demonstrates the need for a majority-Latino state legislative district that keeps the Latino community of the Yakima Valley and Pasco region together and provides an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice.