ACLU files lawsuit against Yakima City Council - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

ACLU files lawsuit against Yakima City Council

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YAKIMA, Wash.-- The City of Yakima now faces new legal problems. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit Wednesday, alleging the city's election process for city council members unlawfully prevents Latinos from being elected.

It's a major lawsuit for the City of Yakima and the first of its kind in the state of Washington.     

"We're not bringing this lawsuit to help one particular candidate or even just one particular neighborhood, or just one particular group. It's about making sure that the city council represents the whole city, including the sizeable Latino community," said Noah Purcell, an attorney working the lawsuit.

The lawsuit demands a change to the city's "at-large" method of electing council members.

Right now, four of the seven city council members are elected by people in the district they live in.

Some people think a Latino candidate would have a better chance to be elected in a heavily populated Hispanic neighborhood. But in the general election, people don't vote by district, but for whichever candidate they want.

The lawsuit says that's a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it consistently prevents Latino backed candidates from being elected since the majority of voters are white, and they elect candidates favored by the white community which overpowers the vote of local Latinos.

"The idea is I want every voice to count and I want people to be able to have a vote and make their vote count," said Mateo Arteaga.

Arteaga and Rogelio Montes are the two plaintiffs named in the suit.
Arteaga was born in the Yakima Valley and says he hopes this lawsuit will give Latino voters more of a voice in the community. 

"We have a lot of young people here in this community that they feel their voice isn't being heard. And I want to be sure that they get that opportunity," said Arteaga.

The ACLU says they've asked the city to change its election method as recently as earlier this month, but since nothing has been done, this lawsuit was the next step.

A Latino candidate has never been elected to the city council in Yakima.

A city representative said they hadn't received a copy of the lawsuit yet and therefore can't comment.


YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - Two Yakima residents are suing the city in federal court, claiming its election system effectively prevents Latinos from being represented in city council elections.
Yakima has three council members who represent districts and four at-large members, but the district candidates are only selected in the primary election. Every resident casts votes for each council seat in the general election.
Civil rights advocates contend the method dilutes the Latino vote and blocks minority representation. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of university administrator Mateo Arteaga and Rogelio Montes, a student.
Yakima has more than 91,000 residents, and its population is 41 percent Hispanic. No Latino has ever won an election for a seat on the city council.