A federal judge in Seattle has ruled that the process of electing the city council of Yakima violates the Voting Rights Act by its design — making it nearly impossible for a Latino candidate to win an election and a seat. The non-Latino majority “suffocates” the Latino minority, Judge Thomas O. Rice ruled. There are differences, but Wenatchee’s circumstance has striking parallels. It is time to take heed, before change is forced, and lay the groundwork for a truly representative electoral system.
Yakima is 40 percent Latino and in 37 years of the current council structure, no Latino has been elected to serve. One Latina was appointed and served briefly until defeated by a non-Latino candidate. Four council members run in district-only primaries but in the general election all council members are chosen at-large, position by position. Every voter may vote in every council race. The American Civil Liberties Union argued and the court agreed that the system virtually ensures it is “mathematically impossible for Latino voters to elect a candidate of their choosing,” and therefore the system abridges the voting rights of the minority on account of race, a violation of federal law.