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Washington Voting Rights Act passes House

OLYMPIA (Feb. 28, 2018) — For the sixth time in as many years, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Washington Voting Rights Act, SB 6002 sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) and strongly supported by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, on a 52-46 vote. It already passed the Senate 29-19, but returns there for a concurrence vote and then will advance to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) will allow communities that are systemically disenfranchised in local government elections to work collaboratively with their local governing bodies to adjust their elections through local remedies such as districted systems. This act focuses on a collaborative process rather than litigation, which currently is the only path to relief under the federal Voting Rights Act. If this collaborative process fails, communities can then seek relief in state court.

The measure had repeatedly passed the House in previous years, but was killed without a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. With Democrats gaining a narrow majority in that body after last fall’s special election of Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Kirkland), the WVRA was finally granted a Senate vote this year and passed. In Tuesday’s House vote, every Democratic state representative and two Republicans, Reps. Larry Haler of Richland and Paul Graves of Fall City, voted “yes.”

“People should reasonably expect their elected bodies to reflect the populations of those who elected them,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac), sponsor of the House version of the bill. “The Washington Voting Rights Act is a response to communities and local governments asking for tools to remove barriers without costly lawsuits in an effort to successfully work towards a more fair and balanced governing body.”

In 2012, two Yakima Latino citizens claimed the City of Yakima’s election system unlawfully diluted the Latino vote, and it did not allow for equal participation by Latinos in the election process. Yakima voters had never elected a Hispanic or Latino city councilmember despite having a population of nearly 40 percent Hispanic or Latino. A federal court agreed with the citizens, and ordered Yakima to draw districts for its city council elections, instead of relying on at-large seats.

After Yakima changed its election system, three Latina citizens — including WSLC Union, Community & Naturalization Organizer Dulce Gutiérrez — won elections to the city council. It was the first time any Latino citizen had been elected to the city council.

“The Washington Voting Rights Act offers a fair, consistent and collaborative process for fixing discriminatory election systems that may exclude entire communities from having meaningful representation,” said Eric González, WSLC Legislative and Policy Director. “Whether they are on school boards, city councils, or commissioner districts, these positions have the power to significantly shape and impact the social, health, and economic prosperity of voting and non-voting age populations alike.”

“The Washington State Labor Council believes this is a critically important piece of legislation that will strengthen our democracy by promoting more accessible and equitable election processes,” González said.

Sen. Saldaña and Rep. Gregerson posted this video shortly after Tuesday’s historic vote on the WVRA.

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