Historic Victory for Latino Voters in Yakima County
In July 2020, MHB and the Campaign Legal Center filed the first-ever lawsuit under the Washington Voting Rights Act challenging Yakima County’s electoral system for its county commissioners. The suit was filed on behalf of four Latino community leaders in Yakima County – Bengie Aguilar, Dulce Gutierrez, Rogelio Montes, and Susan Soto Palmer – and immigrant rights organization OneAmerica. The lawsuit alleged that Yakima County’s system of at-large general elections violated the rights of Latino voters to have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and was filed only after Yakima County refused to voluntarily change its system after being notified of the violation. Despite Latinos making up more than 50% of the Yakima County population, only one Latino commissioner has ever been elected to the County Board.
On August 30, 2021, on the eve of trial, the Yakima County Board of Commissioners agreed that its electoral system must change. In a historic settlement, the County agreed to jointly propose a court-ordered change that will replace the at-large system with single-member districts that will allow the Latino community to have an equal opportunity to elect candidates who are responsive to their priorities. All three county commissioner seats will stand for election in 2022 under the new system before resuming staggered terms.
The Washington Voting Rights Act incentivizes local governments to work collaboratively with their constituents to change outdated electoral systems that dilute the votes of communities of color. This settlement should further encourage those governments to embrace necessary change before incurring the costs of litigation.
Additional information regarding the settlement can be found from OneAmerica here: