OLYMPIA – Senate Bill 5597 passed the Senate on February 10 without the support of two senators representing the Yakima Valley. Senators Curtis King and Jim Honeyford represent each of the parts of the valley. Senator King said he disagreed with several parts of the bill.
First, it requires prior approval from the state attorney general or a superior court before district maps can be finalized.
Second, it requires the University of Washington to collect population-based data for at least the previous 12-year period. They would use the data to determine whether current voting practices violate suffrage law and how to avoid diluting the votes of protected classes.
Although disappointing for OneAmericathe human rights group in favor of the legislation, political director Melissa Rubio said their votes were not surprising.
The Yakima Valley has a history of discrimination against voters of color, especially the Latino population. Two lawsuits were filed based on voter dilution and discrimination in Yakima. One against the city council voting system, which the city lost. The other against the Commissioners’ voting system. The county settled that lawsuit in August.
Senator King, of Legislative District 14, said he voted no on the bill because he thinks the preclearance requirement for finalizing legislative districts is ridiculous.
“Who’s running the show? Is it now the attorney general or a court, it’s so heavy, it’s so in your face, that’s what I don’t like about it, why I voted no,” said Senator King.
He also said the bill would make it easier for any voter to sue cities if they disagree with district maps, even with preclearance, because any voter can appeal the decision of the court or the attorney general.
“It’s bullying to our cities because they can be sued in no time under this bill,” Senator King said.
He thinks he voted according to what his constituents would want and that Washington’s voting rights law is strict enough as it is now.
“He doesn’t vote according to the priorities of his constituents, he votes according to the priorities of wealthy white politicians who want to continue to hold power and accumulate power and prevent people like our community members that we organize in the valley of ‘to actually be able to run for office,’ Rubio said.
OneAmerica believes this addition to the WVRA is necessary to ensure a fair voting system for all.
“It’s really important that we have strong local suffrage law here in Washington that we can build on as we see suffrage under attack,” Rubio said.
Rubio added that it’s important that this bill passes now, as Washington goes through redistricting to make sure everyone’s vote counts.
Washington redraws every 10 years.
She also said the concept of preclearance is not new.
“Preclearance was part of the Federal Voting Rights Act until it was removed when the Federal Voting Rights Act was dismantled, so it’s not ridiculous, it’s something that has proven itself in our electoral justice system,” Rubio said.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Rebecca Saldaña was in session in the senate and unable to comment.
Sen. Jim Honeyford of the 15th Legislative District – who voted against the bill – was also in session and unable to comment.
The bill was passed today by the Committee on State Governments and Tribal Relations in the House of Representatives and will go to discussion on the next floor.