Yakima, WA - The Yakima County Board of Commissioners settled a lawsuit accusing the county of having a discriminatory voting system. In the settlement, the commissioners agreed to remap voting districts and move to a district-based voting system for both primary and general elections.
This settlement comes after years of Latinos and other people of color fighting for equal voting rights and against voter suppression in Yakima County. The immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica along with four community members - Dulce Gutierrez, Bengie Aguilar, Susan Soto Palmer and Rogelio Montes - filed the lawsuit with the Campaign Legal Center as their representation.
According to Gutierrez, the changes coming to the voting system will help make Latino voices heard.
"With these new district boundaries we will have a Latino majority district and we are also going to have a district that is very diverse where Latinos have a fighting chance to elect the candidate of their choice," Gutierrez said. "So, two of the three districts are going to be districts where we have hope."
Right now, Yakima County has district-based voting for commissioner primary elections, but everyone votes for the candidates in the general election.
Yakima County has three voting districts one of which is majority Latino, one majority white and the other is majority white but with a large Latino and Native American population. However, since we don't vote by district in the general election, the candidates elected aren't always representative of their demographics.
For instance, even though Yakima's population is 50% Latino and 30% of voters are Latino, Yakima's only had one Latino commissioner. Voting by district could change this.
"Our vote doesn't get diluted under this new system, at least that's the goal," Gutierrez said. "When we are talking about the Latino vote under this new system we do expect to see different results."
This settlement is the first victory under the Washington Voting Rights Act. The Executive Director for OneAmerica Roxana Norouzi said this win will help pave the way to change discriminatory voting systems across the state.
"When there's fair and equal representation everyone benefits," Norouzi said. "This will have ramifications for the entire state, so while this was the first case to be tried under this new law, we'll be organizing in other places in the state that have discriminant elections and working to change those elections as well."