Tacoma, Washington – Voting and civil rights groups are suing Washington state officials over a state redistricting plan that violates the federal Voting Rights Act and dilutes the voting strength of Latino voters, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the UCLA Voting Rights Project, the Campaign Legal Center, and attorney Edwardo Morfin of the Morfin Law Firm in Kennewick, Washington, filed the lawsuit on behalf of individual Latino Washington voters and a non-profit organization committed to fair redistricting in that state. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
“The Washington State Redistricting Commission unfortunately joins a long list of state authorities over the last 20 years that have sought to stem the growing power of the Latino vote in the face of demographic trends,” stated MALDEF staff attorney Ernest I. Herrera. “We ask a federal court to give Latinos in Washington state the electoral opportunity that the Commission denied them.”
According to the complaint, the Washington State Redistricting Commission in November drew its adopted state legislative district plan in such a way that Latino voters will not be able to elect state legislative candidates of their choice in the 15th Legislative District. Attorneys argue that the plan for Yakima Valley, which includes two counties that have majority-Latino populations, disperses Latino voters across several legislative districts with white majorities, a practice known as “cracking.” Instead, the suit claims, commissioners should have drawn a legislative district that actually gives Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. According to the 2020 Census, Latinos accounted for over 30 percent of total population growth over the last decade in Washington.
Attorneys argue that the redistricting plans intentionally violate Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and language.
“The Washington State Redistricting Commission’s proposed state legislative map dilutes the voting power of Latinos in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions, denying them an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice, as is required under the Voting Rights Act,” said Mark Gaber, senior director, redistricting at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Federal and state courts have twice invalidated election systems that discriminate against Yakima Valley’s Latino voters. The Commission’s refusal to learn from these court decisions has necessitated this third lawsuit. The discriminatory voting practices against Latino voters in the Yakima Valley must end.”
“The fight to defend our democracy and ensure the voting rights of all Americans is taking place through battles in county and state courthouses all across the nation. In Yakima Valley, Latinos have driven the region’s population growth and it is imperative that Washington State does not dilute the ability of Latino voters to meaningfully exercise the right to choose candidates that represent their community’s needs,” said Sonni Waknin, UCLA Voting Rights Project managing attorney and voting rights counsel.
Attorneys are asking the federal court to prevent Washington state from using the maps and instead adopt a plan that includes a majority-Latino state legislative district in the Yakima Valley region that does not dilute the voting strength of Latino voters.
The lawsuit names as defendants Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Washington State House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Washington State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig.
Plaintiffs include eight individual voters from the Yakima Valley and the Southcentral Coalition of People of Color for Redistricting, a non-profit organization whose members include Latino registered voters who reside in the Yakima Valley region and Yakima County.
Read the complaint HERE.