WA’s proposed redistribution cards may violate voting rights law

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Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana / o studies at UCLA, said that was because none of the proposals would create a legislative constituency in the Yakima Valley where the majority of eligible voters are Latino.

Barreto, faculty director of the UCLA Voting Rights Project and expert on Latin American voting models, said this was a problem because the Yakima Valley has both a large Latin American population and a well-documented history of racially polarized voting, in which Latino voters consistently choose different candidates. than white voters. Barreto examined the proposed redistribution maps in an analysis commissioned by Democrats in the state Senate.

“I think the safest thing to assume is that you have a voting record to make in the Yakima Valley area, and you need to draw a map that would remedy an action, a complaint, a lawsuit.” Barreto told Crosscut this week.

The State Redistribution Commission consists of four voting members, one appointed by each political caucus in the Legislature. Last month, each member submitted separate plans to redesign the state’s legislative districts.

But according to Barreto’s analysis, even the Democrat nominee maps would not create districts in the Yakima Valley that clearly comply with federal voting rights law.

With recent demographic changes, there are now three counties in the region that are predominantly Latino, Barreto said. This easily helps to draw a legislative constituency where Latinos make up at least 50.1% of those eligible to vote, he said.

Given these facts, a federal judge would most likely conclude that such a district can and should be fired, Barreto said. And, for the district to be in compliance, he said, Latinos would need to make up not only the majority of the overall population, but the majority of U.S. citizens over the age of 18 as well.

“This has to give Latinos a chance to say, ‘Hey, we’re the majority in this district, we can elect whatever candidates we want, and not always be on the losing side,’” said Barreto, who has already spent 10 years at the faculty of the University of Washington.

“Latino voters have been on the losing side of the state legislative elections for 25 years in the Yakima Valley,” he added.

Yakima has been a hotbed of voting rights lawsuits in the past. In 2014, a federal judge ruled that Yakima City’s system of electing council members by city-wide vote disadvantaged Latinos, leading the city to switch to a new district-based system of elections. .

Earlier this year, Yakima County settled a similar voting rights lawsuit, agreeing to vote by district in the general election. Both cases demonstrated clear racially polarized voting patterns, Barreto noted.

Brady Walkinshaw, the Senate Democrats’ nominee to the Carving Commission, said he plans to submit a new carving plan for the Yakima region based on Barreto’s findings. According to Barreto’s analysis, Walkinshaw’s original proposal created a district in the Yakima region that had only about 43% Latino by the voting age population, which Barreto said was likely to be no. in accordance with the law.

“I think for me, as the very first Latino Commissioner, it was extremely important for me to uplift and uplift Hispanic voters and to reverse the racially biased voting patterns, especially in the Valley. of Yakima, ”Walkinshaw told Crosscut.

“This is something that under federal law must be done,” added Walkinshaw, who is the first Latin American to serve on the state’s Redistribution Commission.

The other Democrat appointed to the redistribution commission, April Sims, said she also plans to submit a new card.

Sims initially proposed a legislative district in the Yakima region where 47.6% of eligible voters would be Latin American, according to Barreto’s analysis. This is still below 50.1% or more than the standard normally demanded by the courts, Barreto said.

The maps of the two Republican commissioners were even further apart, according to Barreto’s analysis. He found that the two GOP commissioners, Joe Fain and Paul Graves, each proposed districts in the Yakima region where just over a third of eligible voters would be Latin American. Neither Fain nor Graves responded to requests for comment on the recently released analysis.

Barreto said it seemed to him that the maps submitted by Fain and Graves engaged in the “breaking” of textbooks of the Latino population of the Yakima Valley into three or four districts. Such a card would prevent Latino voters from forming a majority in a single constituency, limiting their ability to elect their preferred candidates, he said.

Based on recent election results, it is likely that these preferred candidates would be Democrats. Barreto’s analysis of constituency-level data found that Latino voters in five counties in central and eastern Washington have overwhelmingly favored Democrats over the past decade, while white voters in the region most often chose Republican candidates.

Graves, one of the Republican constituency commissioners, said his goal in drawing new legislative constituencies was to make them more competitive so that there were fewer secure seats for Democrats or Republicans. Right now, Democrats hold strong majorities in both houses of the Washington Legislature.

At the same time, Graves said he is also working to increase the number of legislative constituencies predominantly made up of people of color. While Graves said the latest state redistribution process created only two majority minority districts, he estimated his map proposal would create eight. One of them would be his proposed 15th legislative district in the Yakima region, he told Crosscut last month.

Barreto’s analysis, however, found that while Graves’ proposed 15th district would be 54% Latin American to the overall population, if we look at eligible voters – US citizens over the age of 18 – only 36% are said to be Latin American.

Barreto suggested two ways to redesign the districts in the Yakima region to ensure compliance with federal voting rights law. One of his proposals, but not both, would place the Yakama Nation reserve in a single legislative district, which the four commissioners said was a priority. At present, the reserve is divided between districts, which the Yakama tribal leaders have asked to change. Last month, each commissioner proposed a new map that would unify the Yakama reserve in one district.

But Barreto believes they should also create a Latin American majority voting district to ensure the results comply with the law.

Barreto, who has testified as an expert witness in voting rights cases across the country, has conducted polls and other work for Democratic candidates, including President Joe Biden. Still, he said creating a Yakima Valley district where most eligible voters are Latinos wouldn’t be about giving either party an advantage.

“Latinos in this district could possibly decide to vote in another way,” Barreto said. “… It doesn’t matter who they vote for, it’s just that they can’t be overthrown by rural white voters – which has been happening for 30 years.”

Updated to include an additional reaction.

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