WA Voting Rights Act Aims to Ensure Fair Representation in Local Government

News Release: 
Friday, January 25, 2013

Washington Voting Rights Act Aims to Ensure Fair Representation in Local Government

The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) – HB 1413, a bill designed to ensure fair representation in local governments throughout the state, has been introduced in the 2013 Washington Legislature. Sponsored by Representative Luis Moscoso and Senator Sharon Nelson, the measure will have a hearing on Wednesday, January 30 at 1:30 pm in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

“Election systems should provide all communities a fair and equal opportunity to be represented in local governments throughout Washington. For government to be accountable, all voices must be heard,” said Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica.

“Every community needs to have a fighting chance to elect the candidates of its choice. The Washington Voting Rights Act will ensure that everyone has a meaningful vote in elections for local government,” said Shankar Narayan, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Washington.

The WVRA protects fairness in government by providing a way to change local election systems that deny voters an equal opportunity to influence elections. Most local elections in Washington use at-large voting systems. Where communities vote in blocs, small majorities can dominate and exclude some communities from being heard. The result is a lack of accountability that can leave potholes, sidewalks, public safety, and other critical issues from being addressed in those communities.

Under the WVRA, local governments are empowered to take action voluntarily 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 works to give every community an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

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.

“As a non-partisan organization committed to good government, we are pleased to endorse the Washington Voting Rights Act, which provides important voter protections to ensure that every voter’s vote counts and that some communities aren’t systematically excluded from a fair chance at local representation,” said Kim Abel, Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Washington.

More than 30 civic and community-based organizations across the state have endorsed the WVRA. They include the League of Women Voters, the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law & Equality, the Children’s Alliance, Washington Conservation Voters, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, SEIU Local 775, the Washington Bus, and the Win/Win Network.