ACLU and City of Pasco working to better represent Latino votes - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

ACLU and City of Pasco working to better represent Latino votes in elections amid lawsuit

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PASCO, WA -  The ACLU Files a lawsuit in federal court against another Washington city over voting practices but Pasco leaders say they welcome the litigation. They said the complaint had to be filed to make a change. The ACLU said Pasco is violating the Federal Voting Rights Act with its current election system. That is the same thing that happened in Yakima recently. 

It is believe that Latino voters, which make up more than 30% of the voting population in Pasco, are not being fairly represented. The Pasco City Council has been working to change that, even enacting a resolution in 2015 to "pursue a change in state law to allow district-based voting." Delegates even went to Olympia to get that changed but state lawmakers have yet to make a move. 

The ACLU said, still, the city of Pasco's hands were not tied and the council could have signed a consent decree to change to a seven district system. Now, the ACLU is forcing the government's hand by taking it above state law to federal court. 

"This is not a surprise to us. We knew it was coming and it's part of the process. So. We appreciate the cooperation the ACLU has demonstrated as we work through this," said Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell.

"There is a state law that prohibits Pasco from affirmatively districting, but the city could have entered into a consent decree but they have chosen to not do that at this particular time," said ACLU Attorney La Rond Baker. 

Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell said the city did look into that consent decree process but decided the lawsuit would be faster and did communicate that thought process with the ACLU. 

Over the next several weeks the Pasco City Council will be working on changes to the local election system and they want Pasco voter input. 

The City has come up with a "likely schedule" to move forward: 

  • August 8 – Council workshop on proposed Consent Decree
  • August 15 – Council action to approve/reject Consent Decree
  • September 6 – Public hearing on alternative voting systems
  • September 19 – Council action on preferred voting system
  • October 3 – Public hearing on Council district boundaries ordinance
  • October 17 – Council action on preferred Council district boundaries

The public hearing scheduled for September sixth will allow for council members and the public to talk about the new voter-district options; five districts with two at-large seats or seven districts with no at-large seats. 

The way it works now in Pasco and used to in Yakima all started 45 years ago.  Two city council members are elected at-large from all voters in the city and five members elected by voters separated by district boundaries. However districts only come into play during primary elections. In the general election all seven seats are at-large and anyone anywhere in the city can vote for any of them, regardless of district. 

"We're conducting an analysis on the 5-2 to make sure that would comply with the federal voter act. If it does not comply, we'll be bringing forward a seven-district alternative," said Zabell.

"Each time there's an at-large election, that constitutes a violation of the voting rights act because it's a form of voter dilution. So we believe seven single member districts is the best remedy. We saw that in Yakima and historically across the country," said Baker. 

According to Baker there is no middle ground on the issues. For the ACLU, it will have to be seven districts. 

The Pasco City Council is working on a consent decree to move forward with the ACLU.