Monday, August 25, 2014

The Voting Rights Act: Does It Still Matter?

After the Supreme Court effectively eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in  Shelby County (allowing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval), many folks who care about protecting the voting rights of racial and language minorities wondered if the VRA still has teeth.

Last Friday, Judge Thomas Rice made it clear that the VRA can still bite-- at least in Yakima, Washington. Forty-one percent of Yakima’s more than 91,000 residents are Hispanic, but the city has never elected a Hispanic member to its at-large City Council.  In 2012, the Washington Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Yakima, arguing that the city’s at-large elections dilute the Latino vote and block representation despite Latinos making up a third of the city’s voting-age population.  

Judge Thomas agreed, ordering Yakima to change its elections system to comply with the Voting Rights Act:  “In the final analysis, there is only one rational conclusion to be drawn...that the non-Latino majority in Yakima routinely suffocates the voting preferences of the Latino minority.”

The Yakima city council is still deciding whether to appeal.

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