At a time when states across the country are egregiously suppressing voting rights, Washington has been a leader in promoting and uplifting voting rights and the right of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities to be fairly represented in their government.
In 2018, the Legislature enacted the Washington Voting Rights Act to guarantee those communities their full voting rights in local elections. Unfortunately, however, the historic denial of these communities’ voting rights has not been limited to city, county and school governments.
This issue recently came to the forefront at the state level when UCLA voting rights expert Matt A. Barreto determined that the Washington Redistricting Commission must draw a majority Latinx district in the Yakima Valley to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. (The term Latinx is used here as an inclusive description of our state’s population that identifies as having Latin American and/or Hispanic heritage.)
Barreto’s finding is a clarion call to us as supporters of voting rights, and early efforts sound promising. Commissioner April Sims, appointed by House Democrats, and Commissioner Brady Walkinshaw, appointed by Senate Democrats, have already released public maps that take steps to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act and to undo patterns of racially polarized voting for the Latinx community in the Yakima Valley.
As a national leader in voting and voting rights, Washington state and its Redistricting Commission have not just the opportunity, but a legal imperative to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act and deliver fair and equal representation to Latinx voters.
Despite comprising 14% of the state’s population, the Latinx community is represented in the 147-member Washington State Legislature by just seven Latinx members, none of whom resides in the Yakima Valley — the area most heavily populated by this community, which makes up 50.7% in Yakima County, for example. This stark lack of representation in the House and Senate chambers is a reflection of the racially polarized nature of the Yakima Valley voting districts, impacting every facet of our work, in everything from health care to education, to housing, to employment.
Because Latinx voters across Central and Eastern Washington face disproportionate barriers to electing officials to represent issues important to them in Olympia, my Latinx colleagues and I bring their priorities to the table year after year. As the Redistricting Commission wraps up its work, I stand with the Latinx community in the Yakima Valley and call on the commission to approve a plan that ensures their fair and equitable representation for the next decade.
Commissioners Sims and Walkinshaw have laid the groundwork to bring fair representation to communities throughout the Yakima Valley. It is imperative that the final maps approved by the Redistricting Commission reflect that groundwork and redraw the relevant districts so that all voters have the opportunity to seek true and fair representation.
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