Much has been written about voting rights in the last few weeks, and deservedly so. This was a prominent theme in this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, which also included equity in education, workers’ rights and income inequality. These matters are interwoven in the larger sociopolitical milieu because policy, and policy makers, wield a significant amount of power in addressing these needs. As attempts to bolster voting rights at the national level appear less likely with conservative politicians of both stripes holding legislation hostage, it is also important to not lose sight of how this plays out locally.
On Jan. 19, a group of civil rights organizations, including the Campaign Legal Center, the UCLA Voting Rights Project and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed a lawsuit against Washington state at the United States District Court in Western Washington on behalf of a group of Latino voters from the Yakima Valley. The suit alleges violations of the Voting Rights Act and an intentional dilution of Latino voters in newly redistricted political maps. The lawsuit points out the clunky restructuring of Washington’s 15th Legislative District, located in Central Washington.
The group notes that the bipartisan redistricting commission erred in its process as the “number [of potential voters] is needlessly depressed because the Commission excluded a number of adjacent, heavily Latino Communities in Yakima County — including parts of the City of Yakima, and the cities of Toppenish, Wapato, Mabton, and their surrounding areas.” They further noted that the commission “instead included an expanse of rural, white communities in Benton, Grant, and Franklin Counties.”
This geographic positioning matters as the current map fractures and divides Central Washington’s Latino community in two between the 14th and 15th legislative districts, in effect stunting an emerging non-white voting bloc. Likewise, rural white voters have had a long history of voting against Latino-preferred candidates, as evidenced by a larger proportion of votes for Donald Trump in the portion of Adams County that is being lumped into the portions of Yakima and Franklin Counties that are included in the currently fashioned 15th legislative district.
To be honest, I do have some trepidation with electoral politics, but this also implies more than simply adding a voting bloc. It is also about making historically marginalized communities visible. As of this last census, the Latino population in Washington state has eclipsed the 1-million-person population mark, and though a significant number resides in Western Washington, the largest concentration is cleaved between Washington State’s 14th and 15th legislative districts.
Clearly, the bipartisan commission failed to examine the character and shift in demographics that continue to reshape Central Washington. The community deserves better and must have their voting rights intact.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle.
Read more of the Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2022 issue.