House Passes Washington Voting Rights Act

News Release: 
Friday, March 8, 2013

March 7, 2013 - Olympia, WA  

Measure Aims to Ensure Fair Representation in Local Government

The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), HB 1413, today passed the Washington House of Representatives by a vote of  53-44. Sponsored by Representative Luis Moscoso and Senator Sharon Nelson, the bill is designed to ensure fair representation and accountability in local governments throughout the state.

For government to be accountable, all voices need to be heard. But some election systems prevent all communities from being represented in local government. Most local elections in Washington use at-large voting systems. Where communities vote in blocs, slim majorities can dominate. The result is a lack of accountability that can leave potholes, sidewalks, public safety, and other critical issues from being addressed in some neighborhoods.

The WVRA empowers local governments to address this local problem. Under the WVRA, they can voluntarily take action to change their election system when polarized voting undermines the equality of every voter’s vote. Governments are given notice and ample opportunity to take remedial action. If a government fails to act, the WVRA provides for legal action in state courts, which can remedy the problem with whatever way allows every community an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

Support for the bill has come from across the state. In testifying at a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing, Spokane City Council Member Jon Snyder said, "I fully support the Washington Voting Rights Act. Our system encourages city councilmembers to collaborate on projects. Members know their district, they are experts in their districts, and it makes them better in representing the people that they've gone to the city to represent." Spokane elects its city council by a system that includes both at-large and district representation.

Washington State needs its own law protecting voting rights. The WVRA will provide for solutions tailored to local communities and will enable communities to avoid expensive litigation under the federal Voting Rights Act. It is modeled after California’s successful Voting Rights Act adopted in 2002.

More than 50 civic and community-based organizations across the state have endorsed the WVRA. They include the League of Women Voters, OneAmerica, the ACLU of Washington, the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law & Equality, the Children’s Alliance, Washington Conservation Voters, Faith Action Network, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Bus, and the Win/Win Network.