Saturday, January 28, 2012

HB 2612 Enacting the Washington voting rights act of 2012

Do we really have to go to court to get rid of at large city councils?
I don't think so.

By definition, “at-large” elections are those in which public officials are elected to represent the entire city, county or state rather than a particular district.
“At-large elections systematically discriminate against minority populations,” said Matt Loretta, a political science professer from the University of Washington testifying on Thursday before the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, “although that does not imply anything about the residents of that district. It does not suggest anyone is a racist.”
Backers of the bill cited the case of Yakima, whose population is 45 percent Latino but whose city council has never elected a Latino member, as evidence of racially polarized voting.
“The members of the Latino community may vote disproportionately for a Latino candidate, but their votes are not enough to overcome those of the city as a whole,” Loretta said. “Consequently, a substantial percentage of the population finds itself politically under-represented.”
According to the bill, following such an election members of the community could file a lawsuit against the city or county and demand to have districts redrawn to more accurately reflect the minority population and/or require representatives to be elected by district rather than at large.
In some cases, the outcome could even be overturned and a new election ordered as soon as feasible.
Rep. Jason Overstreet (R-Blaine), said he was confused by the bill’s assumptions.
“What are you inferring,” he asked. “People get to vote. People get to attend forums and learn about the candidates. Are you saying every election (in which a minority candidate loses) is racially motivated?”
“It doesn’t matter what their motivations are,” Loretta said. “They vote in racially polarized ways whether they’re racists or not. That’s why Latinos and other minorities are under-represented in the process.”, Bill would allow minority groups to contest elections in court

The following message was sent to Representative Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (D), Representative Gerry Pollet (D) and Senator David Frockt (D) of the 46th district.
TO:   Representative Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney
CC:   Representative Gerry Pollet
Senator David Frockt
FROM:   Mr. Michael Baker
STREET ADDRESS:   xxxx N xxxxx St
  Seattle, WA 98133
PHONE:   (206) nnn - nnnn
BILL:   2612 (For)
SUBJECT:   I support this, wish it applied to Seattle
MESSAGE:   I appreciate the intent and potential result of the proposed legislation, and hope it passes.

It is unfortunate that there isn't a more simple way to break up the power concentration of at large elections based on population, similar to the way the federal, state, and county districts are formed. You don't have to be an ethnic minority to be underrepresented.
I would be thrilled to have the Seattle 10 mayor system broken up.
Would limiting the population a city could have before it would be required to break into districts accomplish the same result without going through the costly exercise of going to court?
The state legislature goes through redistricting every 10 years, I'm not sure why the state's most populous cities could not do the same. They already participate in this process to some degree.
A simple example would be requiring that cities have populations greater than 5% of a congressional district (or pick some other number) break councils into and odd number of districts, evenly distributing the population as "practicable". Allow for a mix of district and at large positions, but the at large positions can not exceed the number of district positions.
A population based solution might also resolve some resistance from other legislators.
RESPONSE:   Mr. Baker has requested a response to this message.