CLC Sues Over Washington State Legislative Map Diluting Voting Strength of Latinos

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A map of the state of Washington

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and our 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 against Washington state officials over a voting map that dilutes the voting strength of Latino voters.

The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 19, 2022, challenges the proposed state legislative map drawn by the Washington State Redistricting Commission for having the intent and effect of “cracking” Latino voters into several legislative districts with white majorities in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

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 Yakima Valley area that allows Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice was required under the VRA.

However, the final state legislative map adopted by the commission in November 2021 was drawn in such a way that Latino voters in the Yakima Valley will not be able to elect state legislative candidates of their choice in legislative district 15.

As drawn by the commission, legislative district 15 has a 50.02% Latino citizen voting age population, but it excludes adjacent active Latino voters in Yakima County and instead includes areas with lower Latino voter turnout and a large number of rural white voters that participate at higher rates and who prefer different candidates for political office.

Additionally, the timing of when this district will be up for election will lead to lower Latino voter turnout. In Washington state, elections for odd-numbered state legislative districts are held during non-presidential years, which election data show results in decreased turnout among Latinos.

In the past decade, several successful lawsuits have used the VRA and the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) to require jurisdictions in the Yakima Valley region to reconfigure their election systems and district maps to avoid diluting Latino voting strength.

For instance, in August 2021, CLC and co-counsel, MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, reached a historic settlement resulting in changes to Yakima County’s election system that will for the first time allow Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates responsive to their needs and priorities to the county board.

As the repeated lawsuits demonstrate, the large population of Latino voters in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions routinely experience vote dilution. These suits have also developed voluminous evidence of the high levels of racially polarized voting and discrimination faced by Latino voters.

Instead of the proposed legislative district 15, it is possible to draw alternative configurations of legislative district 15 that would provide a real opportunity for Latino-preferred candidates of the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions to be elected to the state legislature.

The state legislative district lines in the Yakima Valley area will affect the ability of the Latino community to elect candidates who will listen to them and meet their needs over the next decade. Vote dilution against Latino voters must stop so that they can have an equitable opportunity to make their voices heard in government.

Annabelle is a senior legal counsel, redistricting at CLC.
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