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AP: ACLU Looking to Create Minority Districts East of Cascades

By Andrew Calkins June 8, 2011

In addition to the congressional redistricting that's underway for 2012, Washington state is redoing its local legislative districts as well. And today the AP reports that immigrant, minority, and civil rights groups are lobbying to create more majority-minority districts in easter Washington. Currently, there isn't a single Latino state legislator east of the cascades.

Today, the ACLU sent a letter to the Washington State Redistricting Commission, which is currently traveling around the state hearing public testimony, arguing that Latinos don't have the voting power, or the representation, that their large population deserves. Forty-five percent of Yakima county is Latino, for instance, but has no Latino legislators.
"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," Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington legal director, said in a statement. "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."

[...] The ACLU argues that conditions in Yakima County meet the thresholds established in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 for creating a majority-minority district, including a provision that says majority voters' blocs usually defeat the minority's preferred candidate.

The area, though, has sent a Latino to the Legislature before. Former Republican Rep. Mary Skinner served for 14 years in Olympia before retiring. She died in 2009.

"There are currently no Latino legislators east of the mountains. The fact that one legislator served in the past doesn't mean the current districting make-up meets the standards of the Voting Rights Act," said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig.

In 2008, two Latino Democrats lost, with the closest contender getting 47 percent of the vote.

According to the 2010 Census, 45 percent of Yakima County residents are Latino. About 20 percent of the 100,000-plus registered voters have Latino surnames, said Kathy Fisher, elections manager for Yakima County.

The redistricting at the state level is separate from the congressional redistricting (Washington picked up an extra seat as a result of population growth in the 2010 census) that's also underway. At the congressional level, minority groups are lobbying to redistrict the state so that King County has its own (and the state's first) majority-minority district. The AP article notes that a coalition of groups has already submitted a proposal to do just that.

Over the weekend, the Washington State redistricting process got some national attention at lefty blog DailyKos. In an ultra-wonky post, a local software-engineer theorizes that Washington could house the 10th minority district in in the southern half of Seattle — splitting the city into two congressional districts. His proposal, though "unconventional," would still allow all the current US Representatives to keep their current seats.

If the redistricting commission maps out a new district in south King County, the state's DC delegation would likely tilt toward Democrats, 6-4.
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