By Evan Smith, Herald Writer
State Rep. Luis Moscoso‘s proposed Washington Voting Rights Act has stalled in the State Senate.
The bill, which the House of Representatives passed in early February, got a “Do pass” recommendation from the Senate committee on government operations and security, but it has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee, which has kept it from returning to the Senate floor.
The proposal suffered the same fate in the 2015 legislative session.
Moscoso represents the 1st Legislative District, including most of Mountlake Terrace, all of Brier and Bothell, unincorporated areas of Snohomish County north and east of Bothell and unincorporated areas of King County between Bothell and Kirkland. He is one of the state’s three Hispanic legislators.
He said last week that the state Voting Rights Act is aimed at what is called “polarized voting,” in which significant minority groups are shut out of local elections by at-large voting for city councils and other local-government bodies.
Moscoso and other supporters of the bill say that under at-large polarized voting in the city of Yakima, Hispanics, who made up 40 percent of the city’s population, never had won a place on the city council until last year, after a federal lawsuit led to a change to council elections by district and the election of two Hispanic council members.
Moscoso and other Democrats say that the bill would help avoid expensive federal litigation.
Moscoso said that the bill, modeled after the civil-rights-era federal law, would provide an easier and swifter path to justice for individuals who have been shut out of their local elections.
The bill, HB 1745, would allow groups who find that they are systemically disenfranchised in local elections to challenge the process in state court. Moscoso said that this is quicker and less expensive than the federal option and that it would require parties who disagree over an election system to negotiate before suing and would protect municipalities that make meaningful change from future lawsuits.
The proposal would give local governments an easy way to change their system of representation, would provide a mechanism to negotiate complaints over polarized voting, and would allow lawsuits in state courts; Moscoso said that a suit in a state court would be less expensive than a federal lawsuit for either side of such a dispute.
Moscoso noted that many types of local governments can not, under current state law, voluntarily change their method of election.
In February, Moscoso said, “We have seen the promise of representative democracy fulfilled in cities like Yakima and Seattle, where district voting has produced governments that finally look like the citizens they represent. This bill would extend that promise to communities across Washington.”
Seattle started electing council members by district last year.
Evan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.