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Published on Friday, January 30, 2015

Voting Rights Act up for hearing next week

For the fourth year in a row, legislation establishing a Washington State Voting Rights Act (VRA) is making its way through the legislature. HB 1745, sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Mountlake Terrace), is scheduled for public hearing on Thursday, February 5 at 1:30 pm in the House State Government Committee.

As noted in past Bulletin articles, the Washington VRA has been a legislative issue since 2012. Under HB 1745, members of a protected class would be allowed to file an action against a local government demonstrating their combined voting preferences as a group are different from the rest of the electorate and that there is polarized voting. This action requires local governments to review their election processes and change their electoral system. This change includes, but is not limited to, implementing a district-based election system. If a local government does not change its election process, members of the protected class may file an action in a trial court.

Over the course of the past three years, AWC has worked with legislators, the Governor’s office, the ACLU, local governments, and other stakeholders on the bill. Throughout this time AWC has had concerns with the legislation due in part to its litigation component. Significant changes were made to the bill this past fall based on local government’s feedback. While the bill is markedly better than it was a year ago, a few issues remain.

Among our most noteworthy concerns:

  1. Litigation bill/cause of action: The bill creates a new cause of action against local governments. If a local government is accused under the VRA, its only recourse is to accept the complainant’s issue and re-district or litigate.
  2. Overturning elections: The Act would require new elections for positions with at least two years left in the term under certain circumstances. Candidates put a great deal of time, money, and effort into running for office. Potential candidates may decide not to put in the effort to run if there was a risk of their election being overturned.
  3. Costs: The proposed legislation raises questions about the costs and resources associated with implementation and compliance with the VRA. These fiscal impacts include: resources to conduct ongoing demographic studies; resources to develop, review and evaluate redistricting options; resources to conduct public processes for review and consideration of options related to compliance with the Act; litigation costs, including attorney fees which couldn’t be recovered by the political subdivision; and election costs.

Cities who have an interest should take a look at the latest version that is markedly different than previous years and takes into account some of the local government’s concerns. Please contact AWC’s Victoria Lincoln or Jane Wall with your comments.

Categories: General government