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News / Northwest

Central Washington could have new voting boundaries in time for this election

By Phil Ferolito, Yakima Herald-Republic
Published: February 24, 2024, 7:14am

New boundaries of the Legislative District 15 in Central Washington could be finalized in time for the 2024 election under recent federal court decisions.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Soto Palmer vs. Hobbs, leaving any appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The high court also sent a related case, Garcia v. Hobbs, back to district court. This comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in December declined a request to delay remedial proceedings in the Soto Palmer case pending the outcome of the Garcia case.

The decisions allow the lower court’s proceedings to continue as scheduled. An evidentiary hearing over proposed new boundaries will be held March 8 in U.S. District Court.

That should provide enough time for the court to finalize the new boundaries by a March 25 deadline set by the Secretary of State, said Ben Phillips, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the matter.

“We are happy the remedial process is continuing in the district court, and we’re pleased that we’re going to complete that process and will have a map in place this election,” Phillips said.

Plaintiffs in the case have produced several proposed maps.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik is particularly interested in one map that leaves neighboring Legislative District 14 mostly in tact and includes the Yakama Reservation, Phillips said.

The new map will determine which Yakima Valley lawmakers will run for which seat in the state House and Senate this year. The boundaries of the 14th and 15th districts are likely to change. Lawmakers from the 15th District are state Sen. Nikki Torres of Pasco, and Reps. Bryan Sandlin of Zillah and Bruce Chandler of Granger. The 14th District is represented by Sen. Curtis King of Yakima and Reps. Chris Corry of Yakima and Gina Mosbrucker of Goldendale. All are Republicans.

The recent proceedings stem from a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by a group of Latinos who challenged new mapping of the district, which was part of the statewide redistricting plan approved by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission and enacted in February 2022.

The lawsuit — Soto Palmer v. Hobbs — said the new mapping of the district disenfranchised Latino voters by fragmenting Latino communities throughout the region, a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Last August, Lasnik sided with the Latino groups, which included former Yakima County Commission Democratic candidate Susan Soto Palmer and ordered Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs to redraw that district’s boundaries. The Campaign Legal Center is also a plaintiff.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is representing the plaintiffs.

Lasnik ordered the state to redraw that district’s boundaries.

The Garcia case, which accused the mapping committee of racial gerrymandering when drawing district boundaries, was dismissed as moot in the wake of the Soto-Palmer decision.

Sunnyside Republican Benancio Garcia appealed the dismissal to U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated the judgment and returned the case to the U.S. District Court for a fresh judgment “from which an appeal can be taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”

The interveners — former Granger Mayor Jose Trevino, state Rep. Alex Ybarra of Quincy and Ismael Campos — appealed the Soto Palmer decision to the Ninth Circuit as well and asked the appellate court to halt remedial proceedings in the lower court until the Garcia case was resolved. In late December, the appellate court denied the request.

Phillips said the remedial proceeding involves the selection of 10 proposed boundaries devised by plaintiffs.

He said all the proposed maps comply with the Voting Rights Act with each having different trade-offs.

“The court has indicated that it likes one particular map,” Phillips said. “The hearing is a final opportunity for each side to finalize which one.”