The House passed the Washington Voting Rights Act on Thursday, which would allow minority groups to challenge the fairness of representation on city councils, school boards and other political bodies.
“It is time for us to make history today, pass this bill again, send it across the way and get it passed once and for all so that all Washingtonians can have the opportunity — where it’s necessary — to participate in local decisions in the area,” said bill sponsor Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace.
HB 1745 passed 52 to 46, with Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, as the only Republican who voted with the Democrats in support of the bill. The state House has passed a version of this bill for the past several years.
A King County Ballot Drop Box is labeled in different languages. (Photo by King County via Flickr.)
Right now, people in minority groups that feel they are not getting adequate representation may sue local governments in federal court under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Supporters of the Washington Voting Rights Act cited a federal lawsuit that the city of Yakima lost last year, in which a judge ordered Yakima to hold district elections, instead of citywide elections.
In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice ruled that citywide elections have blocked Latino candidates from winning a seat on the city council, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. Yakima, listed as 41 percent Latino according to the U.S. Census, has never had a city council member with a Hispanic surname, the paper reported last year.
Supporters of the House legislation say that the Washington bill allows for challengers and the political body to work out the issue within 180 days before going to a state court, enabling them to avoid federal court.
But Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, argued that other states with their own Voting Rights Act have continued to see lawsuits.
“It has been a litigation nightmare. Every city who has been sued has lost, not a single municipality has successfully defended themselves from this litigation. Every time there has been litigation it has been costly in the millions upon millions of dollars,” Manweller said.
HB 1745 heads to the Senate for consideration. However, the companion bill in the Senate, SB 5668, stalled in the Senate Rules committee, and an attempt on Wednesday to introduce the bill via a Ninth Order move by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, was defeated along caucus lines.
Gov. Jay Inslee said after the House vote on Thursday that he hoped that lawmakers would continue to work on the Voting Rights Act.
“I was talking with people in Yakima yesterday that feel that this would give people more confidence in the system and give people a shot at local representation,” he said.