With the Nov. 3 General Election, Washington state acknowledged the emergence of a more diverse political reality. The election of eight Latinas to five City Councils (five in Eastern Washington and three in the Seattle Metro area) has clearly demonstrated that the Latino community is fully engaged in the democratic process.
Because of structural discrimination in Yakima it took a recent lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union to introduce fairness into their voting system so all communities could be equitably involved. Racially polarized voting was diminishing the American Dream for that ethnic community who had become so essential to the economy of the Valley — but could not elect their own representatives in Yakima and elsewhere.
As the prime sponsor of the Washington Voting Rights Act (HB 1745) I have personally met with elected officials throughout Eastern Washington who told me they recognize that their voting systems may also be unconstitutional, and that they want to avoid the unnecessary expense of a federal court case like the one that cost Yakima taxpayers millions of dollars. The Washington Voting Rights Act will provide accountability and fairness by fixing broken election systems that can deny voters an equal opportunity to have their participation count in elections. Officials I’ve met with, including Republican colleagues in the Legislature, recognize that demographic change makes it likely that voting systems in many Washington jurisdictions will be found unconstitutional if challenged.
But why wait for communities to sue for their constitutional rights? Why not finally pass the Washington Voting Rights Act next year in the Legislature? This law would save governments money and resolve complaints faster by allowing them, if necessary, to go through state courts instead of federal courts. It is time to provide fair voting systems anywhere in Washington state where under-represented people have been unable to elect representatives from their communities. Local elected officials must either ask their legislators to pass the Washington Voting Rights Act in the 2016 legislative session or they must tell their citizens to be prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend inadequate and discriminatory election systems that will certainly be ruled unconstitutional in the end.
For me “One Washington” means providing an election system that gives every voter the opportunity to vote in a more meaningful and legitimate way. Last month’s election of eight Latinos to five City Council positions in Eastern and Western Washington is a harbinger of elections to come wherever Latino communities have been under-represented in the past. Passing the Washington Voting Rights Act will expedite this inevitable and preferred exercise in democracy.
Sí se puede! (Yes, it can be done.)
State Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, represents the 1st District and is the founder of the Legislative Latino Caucus.
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