Making History: Latino Voter Participation Increases under Yakima’s New District System

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
People living in Yakima’s two new, majority-Latino districts cast more ballots in the city’s August primary than they did in the 2013 primary, according to a study of voting records by the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The two majority-Latino districts were created as part of Yakima’s new single-member district system for City Council elections. A federal judge ordered the City of Yakima to adopt a district voting system after the ACLU-WA successfully sued Yakima for violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Yakima Herald-Republic compared the Aug. 4 primary voting records of residents in the newly formed Districts 1 and 2 to show if voter participation increased from the 2013 primary. In District 1, voting increased more than 45 percent. In District 2, voting increased by nearly 32 percent, according to the newspaper’s analysis—which includes all voters in those districts, not just Latinos. In the four other districts there was no comparable increase in voting.

“We’re thrilled that so many people in Districts 1 and 2, who didn’t vote in the last primary, cast ballots this year to elect their candidate of choice to represent them on the City Council,” said La Rond Baker, ACLU-WA Staff Attorney. “It shows citizens will participate in elections when they have a meaningful opportunity to do so.”

Latinos account for approximately one-third of Yakima’s voting-age population and approximately one-quarter of its citizen voting-age population. Yet in the 37 years of the at-large system, no Latino had ever been elected to the Yakima City Council.

The ACLU-WA brought the lawsuit against Yakima in 2012 on behalf of Yakima residents Mateo Arteaga, a university administrator, and Rogelio Montes, a student at Yakima Valley College. In 2014, the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington found that Yakima’s system of at-large elections dilutes the voting strength of Latinos and that the non-Latino majority in Yakima “routinely suffocates” the voting preferences of the Latino minority.

Prior to the suit’s filing, Yakima voters elected the seven members of the City Council at-large, with every voting resident of the city casting their vote for each council member. The Court subsequently adopted the ACLU’s proposal for seven single-member districts for City Council.