Guest Post: Three Questions on the WA Voting Rights Act
Well, hello there! Zach Duffy and Seth Dawson here – your trusty Hella Bus guest posters. We’re here today to talk to you about the Washington State Voting Rights Act. As student-researchers in the State of the State for Washington Latinos, a long-running initiative at Whitman College, we looked into why measures to restore Washington State’s democracy might be necessary.
What is the Washington State Voting Rights Act?
This bill, hotly contended in the State Legislature, brings the federal Voting Rights Act down to the state level. It allows protected classes of voters – people of a race, ethnic, or language minority group – to challenge local electoral systems when it can be proven that such systems present insurmountable barriers to the election of minority groups’ preferred candidates. The typical solution would be a switch to neighborhood elections.
I don’t understand what that last paragraph meant at all. Can you explain it again?
Sure. 99% of local elections in Washington State are conducted at-large, meaning that positions are elected citywide rather than by neighborhood. In a city council election, for instance, a voter is able to vote for each and every city council position.
What’s wrong with this picture? Imagine if the entire state was allowed to vote in each election for state legislator. The people of King County would, in all likelihood, determine the outcome of every election in Eastern Washington. We’d have a lot more legislators that liked indie rock and fancy cappuccinos on this side of the Cascades. Sounds pretty good! But it’s not democratic, because it prevents minority voices from being represented. The same is true when we conduct our local elections at-large. The Washington State Voting Rights Act is one measure that legislators have proposed to correct this problem.
Do local elections in Washington State accurately represent local communities?
Absolutely not. Only 4% of elected officials in Eastern Washington are Latino, even though Latinos make up well over 50% of the population in Adams and Franklin counties. The same underrepresentation occurs in Western Washington for other people of color. And our research shows that this has been a problem for at least thirty years. From 1983-2011, Latinos won less than 6% of all city council and school district elections.
We’d love to tell you more about this issue, but we know that a blog post can only be so long before you start wishing we had made a video where we explain the issue while drinking a ton of liquor (A Shot of Oly, here we come!) For more information, check out www.walatinos.org.