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Inslee urges Yakima City Council not to appeal ruling finding city in violation of Voting Rights Act

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OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday urged  Yakima City Council members not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling last week that the city’s election system is in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it “is not equally open to participation” by the Latino population.

“I was heartened to read that the city would work to comply with Judge (Thomas) Rice’s ruling,” Inslee wrote in a letter to the Yakima City Council.  “The Yakima City Council now has the opportunity to show leadership on behalf of the city and all of Washington.

“I want to respectfully request that the Council send a clear message by voting to not appeal the Court’s decision and instead focus on implementing a plan to address this serious issue,” he said.

“This is not just about Yakima,” he wrote. “Numerous jurisdictions in our state suffer from a lack of diversity
in political leadership and representation, at odds with our shared goal of a truly representative
democracy. We all should be concerned when a city in our state is found to be in violation of the
Voting Rights Act. Full participation in the electoral process is one of the touchstones of our
democracy.”

Rice’s ruling came last Friday in a lawsuit (Montes v. City of Yakima) filed in 2012 under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 2 prohibits cities from using voting practices or procedures that result in “a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

The suit was brought by Yakima residents Mateo Arteaga, a university administrator, and Rogelio Montes, a student at Yakima Valley College.

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of the plaintiffs in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington.

The plaintiffs contended that Yakima’s at-large voting system deprived Latinos of the right to elect representatives of their choosing to the Yakima City Council.

No Latino has ever been elected to the City Council in the 37-year history of the current system – despite the fact, the ACLU said, that Latinos account for approximately one-third of the city’s voting-age population and approximately one-quarter of its citizen voting-age population.

The seven members of the Yakima City Council are all elected “at-large,” with every voting resident of the city casting their vote for each council member whether they live in the council member’s district or not.  This has caused the Latino community’s voting strength to be diluted, the ACLU said.

In his ruling, Rice ordered the parties jointly to submit a proposed remedial districting plan by Oct. 3.

 

 

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