Last Friday, the U.S. District Court in eastern Washington ruled that Yakima's at-large voting system violated the federal Voting Rights Act by officially disenfranchising the large Latino population. (Despite making up 41 percent of the population, there has never been a Latino on the seven-member city council even though Latinos have run for office there.)
"This is not just about Yakima. ... We should all be concerned when a city in our state is found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act." —Gov. Inslee
Siding with the ACLU, the Court ordered the city to propose a compromise remedy with the ACLU, presumably a district-based election formula.
The city said today that they would comply with the order, but clarified that they were not giving up their right to appeal. They could still appeal after the remedy is submitted to the Court on October 3.
I am writing you today about Federal District Court Judge Thomas Rice’s decision last week that found the City of Yakima in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and invalidated the city’s current system for electing City Council members. I’m sure you were as alarmed as I was that the Court determined that the city’s electoral process “is not equally open to participation” by Yakima' s large Latino population.
I was heartened to read that the city would work to comply with Judge Rice’s ruling. The Yakirna City Council now has the opportunity to show leadership on behalf of the city and all of Washington. I want to respectfully request that the Council send a clear message by voting to not appeal the Court’s decision and instead focus on implementing a plan to address this serious issue.
This is not just about Yakirna. Numerous jurisdictions in our state suffer from a lack of diversity in political leadership and representation, at odds with our shared goal of a truly representative democracy. We all should be concerned when a city in our state is found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Full participation in the electoral process is one of the touchstones of our democracy.
As a former resident of the Yakima Valley, I know your city has many things to be proud of. This is an opportunity for a show of civic leadership that I believe would be admired throughout Washington.