An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Voting Rights expansion passes Washington State Senate

Wikimedia Commons
In 2021 Yakima County agreed to change its election system after it was sued under the Washington Voting Rights Act. A new bill before the legislature now would expand that law, giving community members more tools and creating a database.

A bill approved by the Washington Senate seeks to give under-represented communities more tools to address potential voting rights issues.

Pre-clearance would require certain counties, cities or school districts that have had voting rights issues in the past to get the okay of the attorney general’s office or a judge before making changes to voting practices, such as access to non-English language voter information materials, or changing district boundaries in a way that affects minority residents.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senator Rebecca Saldaña, says pre-clearance may be most impactful in Eastern and Central Washington, where large communities of marginalized people have been unable to elect candidates that look like them, or represent their interests, in a general election.

"In Washington State, (there’s) a lot of minority, immigrant communities, immigrant communities, multi-lingual communities, and then of course Latino population, native population, that should benefit from our improvement of the voting rights act before us," she said.

The bill would also create a system to cover legal costs for people who make successful claims of voting rights violations, and would create an open source database for voter demographic information.

The preclearance section of the bill only be available for counties with populations over 50,000 and cities over 10,000. But many existing voting rights acts protections, and a few additional resources, will be available for all state residents.

Audel Ramirez, a Yakima organizer with the immigrant and voting rights advocate group One American, says the bill would be extremely helpful for many smaller, or more rural counties across the state.

Like Yakima County, most counties hold district elections in the primary and at-large elections in the general. That requirement can lead to minority votes, who may be concentrated in a specific district, to be diluted.

He anticipates an open source data base could give low-income people from marginalized backgrounds the information to know if they’re vote is being diluted, and governments tools to see if they maybe violating voting rights.

The measure is on its way to the Washington House.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.