The ACLU of Washington and National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative are urging the Washington Redistricting Commission to establish a majority-minority state legislative district in Yakima County. In a letter submitted to the commission, the groups said the district is needed as a matter of democratic governance and in order to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“With changing demographics, Washington has a chance to give voice to people who have been underrepresented in our legislative system. It is vital that the large and growing population of Latinos and other minorities in central Washington have the ability to elect candidates of their choice,” said Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington Legal Director. Dunne cosigned the letter along with Joaquin Avila, Director of the National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative and a professor at Seattle University School of Law. Prof. Avila will testify at the commission’s public hearing in Yakima on Wednesday night, June 8.
The letter says that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act compels the creation of a majority-minority district in Yakima County. Conditions in the county meet a three-factor test established by the U.S. Supreme Court for evaluating claims under Section 2: (1) that the minority groups are “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority” in the district, (2) that the groups are “politically cohesive,” and (3) that majority voters’ bloc voting enables them “usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate.”
Conditions in the region meet the legal standard of showing that “the voting system operates to prevent the minority group from participating equally in the political process and electing representatives of its choice.” Intent to discriminate is not a factor in determining whether a majority-minority district is legally required.
In support of the claim, the groups submitted Declarations from experts who have studied conditions in the region:
- A Declaration by Professor Paul Apostolidis, Chair of Political Science at Whitman College, discussing evidence of racially polarized voting in Sunnyside and Wapato, among other places. Prof. Apostolidis also discusses the barriers to political participation faced by Latinos; the educational hurdles they face in Eastern Washington; and the employment, health, and educational disparities between Latinos and whites in Eastern Washington. He concludes that in the Yakima Valley, “racially polarized patterns of voting behavior have helped to produce severe deficits in Latino political representation.”
- A Declaration of Professor Frances Contreras, Director of the Higher Education Program at the University of Washington College of Education, describing the persistent educational challenges Latinos face in Washington state, particularly in rural Washington. Latino students do not have comparable access to school resources, programs, or academic support. Prof. Contreras concludes that in rural Washington, “Latinos have historically and continue to experience inequitable access to opportunities to learn.”
- A Declaration by Professor Luis Fraga, Associate Vice Provost and Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, describing the employment, educational, and health disparities for Latinos in Washington state and Yakima County. For example, in Yakima County, the 13.3% unemployment rate for working-age Latinos is far greater than the 7.6% rate for whites. Prof. Fraga notes that, “Latinos have the highest poverty rates in the state,” with approximately 30% living below the poverty line.
“The time has come for the creation of a majority-minority legislative district in Eastern Washington. Such a district will be geographically compact and will fulfill the democratic and legal imperative to create districts allowing full participation for all Washington citizens,” said the ACLU’s Sarah Dunne.