State Voting Rights Act levels the voting field

The OlympianMarch 14, 2013 

The right of every eligible American citizen to cast a vote and exert an equitable share of political influence constitutes the cornerstone of democracy. This nation corrected voting inequities for black Americans with the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Our Legislature must now pass the Voting Rights Act of 2013.

Washington’s demographics are changing, but people of color remain largely on the fringes of elected office. Latinos make up about 41 percent of residents in the City of Yakima, but not one has ever been elected to the City Council.

Latinos hold only 4 percent of local elected offices in 10 Central Washington counties, despite making up more than a third of the population.

Thuston County fares no better. Our population comprises 7.4 percent Latinos, 3 percent blacks and 5.4 percent Asians, yet our elected officials do not reflect that diversity.

House Bill 1413 addresses the harsh reality that, in many parts of the state, minority groups don’t have political opportunity when jurisdictions, such as Yakima, hold at-large elections. The bill would allow citizens to challenge at-large voting when data shows a clear pattern of polarized voting along racial lines, or the loss of voter opportunity for any class of citizens.

Giving citizens the right to seek redress by switching to district- or neighborhood-based elections, when the evidence is convincing, gives people of color the opportunity for equitable representation.

The state House passed the Voting Rights Act along party lines, 53-44. Now, it is up to the Senate.

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