Victory! Yakima Valley's Latino Voters Will Have an Equal Voice in Our Democracy

A view over the city of Yakima, Washington with mountains in the background
Yakima, Washington. Photo by Michael S. Shannon

It’s a fundamental principle of our democracy: Every voice should be heard and every vote should count equally.  

But for decades, Latino voters in Washington state’s Yakima Valley region were denied an equal voice in Washington’s state legislature by maps that unfairly diluted their voices. 

In January 2022, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) sued on behalf of individual Latino voters in the area — and yesterday, a federal judge ruled that Washington state’s redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).  

Because of the ruling, the challenged district, Legislative District 15, must be redrawn to give the Yakima Valley region’s fast-growing Latino population the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. 

Now, for the first time, Latino voters in the Yakima Valley will be able to make their voices heard in state legislative elections on the issues that matter most to their communities. 

In the suit, CLC and our co-counsel — the UCLA Voting Rights Project, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) and attorney Edwardo Morfin — alleged that, in 2021, the Washington State Redistricting Commission engaged in a racial vote dilution practice known as “cracking,” which involved dispersing Latino voters across multiple legislative districts with white majorities in the Yakima Valley area. 

“Cracking” voters is prohibited by Section 2 of the federal VRA, and attorneys successfully argued that this practice occurred in the enacted Legislative District 15. Now, the state must adopt revised legislative district maps for the Yakima Valley region that give Latino voters an equal voice and comply with the VRA by February 7, 2024. 

This case isn’t the first time a court has concluded that Yakima Valley’s Latino voters face racial discrimination that impedes their ability to participate in the political process. On multiple occasions, federal and state courts have invalidated local election systems that discriminated against Yakima Valley’s Latino voters, including in a case that CLC litigated under Washington’s State Voting Rights Act. 

But after decades of racial discrimination, Latino voters in the Yakima Valley can now elect state legislators who will best serve them — a major victory for democracy. 

This case, Soto Palmer v. Hobbs, was the last racial vote dilution case to go to trial before the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed Section 2 of the VRA in June’s Allen v. Milligan decision.  

Since then, CLC has litigated in two Section 2 racial vote dilution trials — in North Dakota, where we represent Native voters, and an ongoing trial in Galveston, Texas, where we represent Black and Latino voters — that illustrate why June’s decision to preserve Section 2 of the VRA was so important. 

While the results of those trials are not yet known, CLC celebrates alongside our clients in the knowledge that, because of this victory in Washington, Latino voters in the Yakima Valley can now make their voices heard in Washington’s state legislative elections. 

Adam is a Media Associate, Voting Rights and Redistricting at CLC.