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Published on Friday, February 1, 2013

Washington Voting Rights Act

A new version of the Washington Voting Rights Act was introduced and heard in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. Like last year’s bill, HB 1413 establishes a state legal action for at-large and district-based elections that may deny minorities an equal opportunity to elect candidates or influence the outcome of an election. The bill allows an individual or group to sue a city, school district, fire protection district, port district, or public utility district alleging that the jurisdiction’s election method dilutes their voting preference. The bill exempts cities and towns with a population under 1000.

If the court determines vote-dilution has occurred, the court may impose district-based elections tailored to remedy the situation and may order new elections. Unlike last year’s bill, HB 1413 authorizes local governments to establish voting districts and conduct district-based elections, if necessary to comply with the act. This was a significant concern last year, as state law does not currently allow many cities and towns to conduct district-based elections in the manner specified under the bill.

Last year, cities strongly opposed the bill. Although HB 1413 addresses some of the concerns raised last year, the proposal imposes ongoing liability and costs for cities with no guarantee that it would address the issues raised by proponents.

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