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Federal Judge: Yakima Election System Disenfranchises Latino Voters

Austin Jenkins
FILE - More than four in 10 residents in Yakima are Hispanic, but Sonia Rodriguez True still lost her race for city council in 2009.

A federal judge has ruled that the way city council members are elected in Yakima, Washington disenfranchises Latino voters.

Last week’s surprising ruling comes exactly two years after the ACLU filed a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the city.

The basis for the lawsuit was that Latinos make up about one-third of the voting-age population in Yakima. Yet, no Latino candidate has ever been elected to the city council.

The ACLU argued the problem was that council members are elected in a citywide vote. The lawsuit called for council member to instead be elected by district.

Now Judge Thomas Rice has concluded that Yakima’s election system “routinely suffocates the voting preferences of the Latino minority.” His preemptive ruling comes just as a trial was set to begin next month.

The judge has now set an October deadline for both sides to submit a proposal for district-based council elections. The city of Yakima could appeal in the meantime.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.