The state of Washington has been added as a defendant in a lawsuit over Yakima Valley voting boundaries after an order from a judge.
The lawsuit, filed by a group of Latino voters and civil rights organizations, alleges violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and an intentional dilution of Latino voters’ influence. It is one of two lawsuits filed over redistricting in the Yakima Valley’s state legislative District 15.
The state’s participation in the voting rights lawsuit is necessary to ensure the court could provide relief if needed, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said in his May 6 order.
The new District 15 splits Yakima and Pasco; covers parts of Yakima, Grant, Benton, Franklin and Adams counties; leans Republican; and has a Latino voter majority of 50.02% and an overall minority voter population of 55.05%, according to population breakdowns provided by the Redistricting Commission.
The commission tried not to split up the Yakama Reservation, which falls in District 14, as has been done in the past.
The UCLA Voting Rights Project, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Campaign Legal Center, plaintiffs in the voting rights case, have requested that the court prohibit defendants from using the map and order the use of a new plan that does not dilute the strength of area Latino voters in the Yakima Valley.
Lasnik decided last month that the redistricting plan will stand for the 2022 election cycle. A trial for the case is scheduled to start Jan. 9, 2023.
Secretary of State Steven Hobbs, named in the lawsuit because of his role overseeing elections, requested that the state of Washington, the Washington State Redistricting Commission or its members be added to the suit. Hobbs has stated that he does not have an interest in defending the new redistricting plan and that he does not have the power to implement a new plan.
Lasnik dismissed Speaker of the House Rep. Laurie Jinkins and Majority Leader Sen. Andy Billig from the case last month, and he said in the May 6 order that Hobbs is the appropriate party to name to prohibit the use of the map. However, Lasnik said it is unclear which state entity, if any, has the power to modify the redistricting map.
“There is no indication that the commission retains the power to further alter or modify the plan,” Lasnik said in the order. “The Legislature’s power to reconvene the commission for the purpose of modifying the plan arises ‘if a commission has ceased to exist,’ which is not yet the case.”
Naming the state as a defendant is the solution, Lasnik said.
The plaintiffs added the state in a modified complaint filed Friday. The state includes the government agencies responsible for adopting redistricting plans and ensuring that elections are conducted in accordance with those plans, the document said.
On May 6, Lasnik also approved the intervention of a separate group of Hispanic voters — Jose Trevino of Granger, Ismael Campos of Kennewick and state Rep. Alex Ybarra of Quincy — in the case. The voters are represented by Andrew Stokesbary, a Republican who represents Auburn in the state House.
A trial is scheduled for Feb. 6, 2023, for the other lawsuit filed over Yakima Valley voting boundaries. That lawsuit — brought by Benancio Garcia of Sunnyside, a U.S. congressional candidate running as a Republican in Washington’s 4th District — alleges the boundaries of voting District 15 constitute illegal racial gerrymandering.
Hobbs is the only defendant named in that lawsuit. As in the other case, Hobbs requested that the state of Washington, the Redistricting Commission or its members be added.
Lasnik is the judge in both cases.