Latinos cheated in Washington State voter map
Eliana Macias, on right with clipboard, talking with one of her constituents as she canvassed in the First District for election to the Yakima City Council. She won election, her term running until Dec. 31, 2023. Eliana Macias, a la derecha con un portapapeles, habló con uno de sus electores mientras realizaba campaña en el Primer Distrito para la elección al Concejo Municipal de Yakima. Ganó las elecciones y su mandato se extenderá hasta el 31 de diciembre de 2023. | Cross Cut

YAKIMA—Washington State is guilty of gerrymandering to deny Latino voters representation in the state legislature according to a pending lawsuit filed Jan.19 by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

The lawsuit assails a district map approved by the legislature that is 50.2% Hispanic as a “façade” of a map that fairly embraces equal voting rights for Latinos in the Yakima Valley.

The MALDEF lawsuit targets the Washington State Redistricting Commission (WSRC) maps for the Yakima Valley east of the Cascade Mountains. It stretches down the Yakima river from Yakima City to the city of Pasco, one of the three “Tri-Cities” on the Columbia River.

MALDEF Attorney, Ernest L. Herrera, charged that the five-member bipartisan WSRC “unfortunately joins a long list of state authorities over the last 20 years that have sought to stem the growing power of the Latino vote…..We ask a federal court to give Latinos in  Washington state the electoral opportunity that the Commission denied them.”

According to the complaint, WSRC last November drew district maps for the Yakima Valley “in such a way that Latino voters will not be able to elect state legislative candidates of their choice in the 15th Legislative District.”

Yakima Valley includes two counties that are a majority Latino. Yet the WSRC drew maps that disperse this majority in as many as four Legislative Districts in a deliberate scheme to dilute the Latino vote. The lawyers charged that these schemes “intentionally violate Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and language.”

MALDEF Senior Director, Mark Gaber, added, “Federal and state courts have twice invalidated election systems that discriminate against Yakima Valley’s Latino voters. The Commission’s refusal to learn from these court decisions has necessitated this third lawsuit. The discriminatory voting practices against Latino voters in the Yakima Valley must end.”

The Hispanic population of Washington State has skyrocketed between the 2010 and 2020 censuses growing to more than one million statewide and surging especially in the Yakima Valley, a center of fruit and wine production that employs tens of thousands of Latino farm workers.

The City of Yakima is now 93,904, of which 54.3% are Hispanic. Yet Yakima City’s city council never had a single Latino councilmember.

Voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit accusing the power structure of Yakima of a racist scheme to exclude Latinos through citywide voting for councilmembers. Yakima was ordered by a court to shift to district-based voting. The result was the election of two Latina councilmembers, Carmen Mendez and Holly Cousens in the Nov. 2, 2010 election.

In the 1980 census, Pasco’s Latino population was 20%. In the 2020 Census, the Latino population was 56%. Pasco elected Saul Martinez Mayor of Pasco and Blanche Barajas Mayor Pro-Tem in 2020. He was first elected to the Pasco City Council in 2010. Martinez recently announced he will not seek a second term. Pasco, too, used citywide voting to neutralize the growing Latino population.

The legal brief of the lawsuit is heavy with documentation. Much of this was the work of Dr. Matt A. Barreto, Political Science Professor at UCLA. He did extensive research and charged that the maps drawn by two of the commissioners were “textbook cracking of the Latino population in the Yakima County.” Both maps split the Latino voting population in half by creating two legislative districts—–LD-14 and LD-15. Another commissioner split the Latino voting population into four—-LD-13, LD-14, LD-15, and LD-16. A fourth commissioner did the same. None of the maps had a Latino population of more than 34%.

The majority Latino votes in the Yakima Valley were diluted by drawing maps that included large chunks of Franklin, Benton, and Adams counties that are overwhelmingly white. They are poisoned with white supremacy.

Said the lawsuit, “The commissioners included a large number of rural white voters that vote against Latino preferred counties….President Trump—-who is not the candidate of choice for Yakima County and Franklin County Latinos—- received 60.7% of the vote.”

Pinero Walkinshaw is the first ever Latino commissioner on the WSRC. He announced on taking office, “As the first ever Latino Commissioner, it has been extremely important for me to lift up and elevate Hispanic voters and undo patterns of polarized voting particularly in the Yakima Valley. This is something that under Federal law has to be done.”

Yet Walkinshaw’s map too divided the Yakima valley into two districts, both of them about 43.2% Latino.

The issue was so contentious that the commission was unable to reach an agreement by their deadline. Finally, they drew a map of District 15 that is 50.2% Hispanic, submitted it to the legislature, and got it approved Nov. 16, 2021. They achieved this razor thin Latino majority by incorporating parts of Adams County, including the town of Othello with a large Hispanic population. The problem is that the Hispanic community in Othello has a long history of very low voter participation.

Even so, voting rights advocates argued it was still not a large enough majority, that enemies could still block election of Latinos to the legislature. That is true, especially in towns like Othello where intimidation and other vote suppression tactics have been used to suppress the Hispanic vote.

MALDEF appealed to the State Supreme Court. But on Dec. 3, 2021, the high court refused to throw out the map of LD-15 calling it an “opportunity” district.

MALDEF then filed the lawsuit asking the Federal court to intervene, to defend the voting rights of Soto Palmer, Alberto Isaac Macias, Brenda Rodriguez Garcia, Fabiola Lopez, Caty Padilla, Evangelina Aguilar, Lizette Parra, and tens of thousands more.


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.