Groups push for minority districts in Washington

They say Latinos aren't adequately represented in Legislature



SEATTLE — Civil liberties, immigrant and minority rights groups are lobbying the commission in charge of redrawing the state’s political map to create districts where minorities are the majority and would have the voting power.

The American Civil Liberties Union and fellow advocates sent a letter Monday to the Washington State Redistricting Commission arguing that while the number of Latinos in Yakima County continues to grow, they do not have political representation in the state Legislature and a legislative majority-minority district is needed.

“It is vital that the large and growing population of Latinos and other minorities in Central Washington have the ability to elect candidates of their choice,” Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington legal director, said in a statement. “Such a district will be geographically compact and will fulfill the democratic and legal imperative to create districts allowing full participation for all Washington citizens.”

The ACLU’s effort follows an earlier proposal from an umbrella group of labor, immigrant and environmental organizations to create a minority congressional district in King County.

Washington gained one congressional seat after the results of the Census were revealed in December.

The redistricting process is handled by the commission, which is comprised of two Democrats, two Republicans and a nonvoting chairman. It was created by constitutional amendment nearly 20 years ago to take the time-consuming and intensely political process out of the hands of the Legislature and governor.

Redistricting commission spokeswoman Cathy Cochrane said commissioners will take a look at all the proposals from the public.

The ACLU argues that conditions in Yakima County meet the thresholds established in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 for creating a majority-minority district, including a provision that says majority voters’ blocs usually defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.

The area, though, has sent a Latino to the Legislature before. Former Republican Rep. Mary Skinner served for 14 years in Olympia before retiring. She died in 2009.

“There are currently no Latino legislators east of the mountains. The fact that one legislator served in the past doesn’t mean the current districting make-up meets the standards of the Voting Rights Act,” said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig.

In 2008, two Latino Democrats lost, with the closest contender getting 47 percent of the vote.

According to the 2010 Census, 45 percent of Yakima County residents are Latino. About 20 percent of the 100,000-plus registered voters have Latino surnames, said Kathy Fisher, elections manager for Yakima County.

The commission is scheduled to unveil the first drafts of the new districts by September then submit those for public feedback. The commission has been traveling the state to collect public testimony, where members will hear more proposals, beyond minority issues, from concerned citizens.

Members are scheduled to be in Yakima and Pasco this week. By November, the commission will have one or two final maps that will be submitted to the Legislature.

Lawmakers then have the option of rejecting the maps and redrawing the district themselves, a process that requires a final two-thirds approval from both chambers. If the Legislature doesn’t act on the final map from the commission, it automatically becomes law.