Lawyers: New political maps will stifle Latin American voices in Yakima County for another decade


YAKIMA COUNTY, Washington – The Washington State Redistribution Commission faces a federal lawsuit over its new political maps diluting the voting power of the Latin American population of the Yakima Valley.

Voting rights advocates say the commissioners chose to divide the large Latin American and Native American populations into separate legislative districts in violation of the Voting Rights Act and, in so doing, deprived people of the right to vote. color of voting age in downtown Washington.

“They don’t want to create more blue districts in Washington, so how do they do that? said Margot Spindola of Redistricting Justice For Washington. “They’re creating neighborhoods that don’t favor communities of color.”

Explore the final 2021 Congressional and Legislative District maps approved by the Washington State Redistribution Commission here.

Redistricting Justice For Washington consulted with community members to develop a map that would revise the boundaries set for the 14th and 15th legislative districts in 2011 to group communities of color in downtown Yakima, the Lower Yakima Valley. and the Yakama Nation.

Although they presented their concerns about the current district boundaries, diluting the Latin American vote and showing the commission how their map would allow communities of color to elect a representative of their choice, advocates said the commissioners did not take their advice into account when they approved the final version. Plans.

“We consider these cards to be illegitimate and, among other things, unconstitutional,” said Spindola.

According to a report released by the UCLA Voting Rights Project, the new cards likely do not comply with the U.S. Constitution, federal voting rights law, and the redistribution requirements of Washington state law.

“Although not all deliberations were public, serious procedural gaps are emerging in the way the committee undertook its work,” the report said. “It may well be that a court will conclude that the failure to draw a neighborhood of Latino opportunity around Yakima was an act of intentional discrimination.”

Check out the full UCLA Voting Rights Act report here.

Spindola said they were happy with the commission’s decision to include tribes in the conversation for the first time and have accepted the Yakama Nation’s request to have their lands remain in one legislative district.

“We had eight different tribes, federally recognized tribes, and we worked really hard to try to make sure their contribution was reflected on the map,” said Jamie Nixon, the commission’s communications director.

The Washington State Carving Commission met virtually on November 15 to approve the new legislative and congressional constituency maps and ended up sparking several controversies.

Watch the committee’s business meeting on November 15 here.

Defenders expressed frustration that while the commissioners met for several hours, they only appeared before the public for about 30 minutes. Nixon said the commission was facing a lawsuit over the state’s open town hall law.

“There is an OPMA lawsuit regarding the open town hall law, but we cannot discuss any of these legal issues as they are still pending,” Nixon said.

Controversy over November 15 virtual meeting, constitutional deadline missed

For the first time in its 30-year history, the commission also missed the constitutional deadline to approve new maps for legislative and congressional districts. Nixon said the commission had run out of time since the redistribution process began.

In previous years, the commission began the process of reviewing new census data in early April, and final plans were not expected until the following January.

Nixon said the commission was aware it would have a little less time this year, as lawmakers decided in 2016 to extend the deadline to November 15. However, they did not anticipate that census data would be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We only got the data around mid-August, which gave us about three months to get the job done,” Nixon said. “We have had less time to work with than any other commission so far.”

Nixon said at the time of the November 15 meeting they were behind schedule and the commissioners were also struggling with spotty Wi-Fi in hotels during the virtual meeting which added a lot of time. to the procedure.

While they were able to vote on the district boundaries seconds before midnight, technological difficulties prevented them from creating the cards and sending them to the Legislature until the following evening.

Read the commission chair’s statement on the results of the November 15 meeting here.

Nixon said the commission had been working hard to redesign the district lines in a shorter time frame and was happy with its outreach plan, which included increased communication with the public.

“We have received more feedback than any commission ever,” Nixon said. “We easily doubled, almost tripled, the number of comments we received. “

However, Nixon said their failure to meet the deadline meant they had to cede jurisdiction over the redistribution to the Washington State Supreme Court.

“We asked them to please adopt the cards or continue to let them go through the process,” Nixon said.

Read the commission’s final report to the Legislature on its 2021 redistribution efforts here.

The state’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the committee’s vote to approve the framework before the midnight deadline was sufficient to meet the constitutional obligation to complete the redistribution by November 15, although it did not produce the cards until the next day.

“This is not a situation in which the Supreme Court should intervene because the commission failed to agree on a plan which it believes complies with state and federal requirements,” the judge said in Chief Steven González in his order.

González argued that the purpose of the deadline was to produce a redistribution plan in a timely manner and that dismissing the commission’s work would hamper that goal. However, the court made no statement as to whether the actual contents of the plan were acceptable under federal and state law.

“The court has not assessed and is not issuing an opinion on the plan’s compliance with legal and constitutional requirements other than the November 15 deadline,” González said.

Read the full Supreme Court order regarding the redistribution commission here.

In a previous press release from Redistricting Justice for Washington, Yakima attorney and community advocate David Morales said the local Latin American community would get a district that would work for them – in some way or another. another one.

“However, rather than submitting this plan for future lawsuits, it would benefit everyone and save a lot of time and money if the final plan complied with both Washington’s voting rights law. and federal voting rights law, ”Morales said.

Nixon said the commissioners worked hard to resolve the issues raised by defenders and did what they could within the parameters that were allowed to them. He said that although there are people who are not happy with the maps, the lines had to be drawn somewhere.

“I understand where people are coming from because when you live in a democracy you want your voice to be heard and recognized and you hope that those in power take heed of what you have to say,” Nixon said.

Nixon said that was why the commission prioritized public education and tried to make it as easy for people to submit comments as possible and to ensure their voices were heard.

Legislature considering amendments, defense organization considering suing

Nixon said the next step will be to provide copies of the maps to 147 legislative offices over the next few days. He said the legislature will have 30 days from its first session on January 10 to propose amendments to the map, but any changes would be minor.

“They cannot change more than 2% of the population in a district and any amendment will require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses,” Nixon said. “There has never been a significant change to the map. There was never a change on the map that changed the partisan result. “

Representatives for Redistricting Justice for Washington said they were awaiting further information from the commission, but planned to file their complaint before the holidays.

Check out the latest press releases from Redistricting Justice for Washington here.

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