The House of Representatives passed the Washington Voting Rights Act today. The legislation, modeled after the iconic civil rights era federal law, would provide and easier and swifter path to justice for individuals who have been shut out of their local elections.
“Today the House votes to protect fairness and equality in our democracy,” said Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Bothell), the sponsor of the legislation.
The bill, HB 1745, would allow communities who are systemically disenfranchised in local government elections to challenge the process in state court, which is quicker and less expensive than the federal option. It would also require that the parties work towards a collaborative solution before pursing litigation as well, and protect municipalities that make meaningful change from future lawsuits.
The result would be an improved process for addressing systems that perpetually undervalue the needs of some voters, such as voting at-large instead of by districts. An added bonus would be lower costs for local governments and taxpayers.
“The Voting Rights Act is about opportunity and optimism. It expands opportunity for residents in communities across the state actively be involved in their governments,” said Rep. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), chair of the State Government Committee. “This legislation will increase people’s optimism about the ability of governments to more effectively represent their communities.”
The vote follows powerful testimony offered in the House State Government Committee by newly elected Yakima City Councilmembers Avina Gutiérrez and Carmen Méndez. The pair shared their story about how the switch to district elections made it possible for them to become Yakima’s first Latino councilmembers ever, in a city that is 40 percent Hispanic.
“We have seen the promise of representative democracy fulfilled in cities like Yakima and Seattle, where district voting has produced governments that finally look like the citizens they represent,” noted Moscoso. “This bill would extend that promise to communities across Washington.”
The bill passed the House last session and was approved by the Senate Government Operations Committee, but was never scheduled for a vote of the full Senate.