Friday, June 12, 2015

My Testimony in Olympia Supporting Options for Local Elections

I am testifying today in support of allowing local communities and jurisdictions the ability to move away from winner-take-all at large elections.

This committee is considering districting as a way for localities to remedy possible issues with minority vote dilution. Nowhere in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does it mandate exclusive districts as a remedy. In fact, the jurisprudence established since this important federal law was passed gives local communities options for voting remedies. While most choose a districting plan, others opt for a modified at-large system.

There are over 100 jurisdiction in the United States that successfully use this kind of voting system. For example Texas, which has a large Latino population, has 40 school boards that use modified at-large to elect their board members.

The City of Yakima wanted to settle its Voting Rights Act case with a hybrid single-member district / modified at-large system to elect their seven seat council. There could be five districts, including a majority-minority district and a minority influence district. The two at-large seats work like this: voters get one vote to elect two council members. When votes are counted, the top-two vote getters win.

Instead of working towards a compromise, the plaintiffs in the Yakima Voting Rights case adamantly rejected this offer by insisting on exclusive districts. They argued that state law prohibited modified at-large. The judge cited state law in denying Yakima a way to avoid the problems with districting.

The Federal Voting Rights Act does not mandate districts to remedy minority vote dilution. The Washington State Constitution does not mandate single-member districts in local elections, or House elections. Districting is a political decision. Not allowing a local option for modified at-large elections makes exclusive racially fashioned districts the only way communities can move away from the potential legal liability of majority bloc voting fostered by winner-take-all at-large elections.

I support a Washington State Voting Act which allows the local community to implement remedies to cure minority vote dilution. I submitted an amendment for the bill to this committee that puts localities—and not attorney’s from across the state—in charge; so long as the local remedy is a legally established way to make elections more inclusive.

I would like to respectfully submit language including a modified at-large option for the legislation you are considering today.

Thank you.


  1. Districting is a political decision, I get it. Washington State uses a nonpartisan commission and total population measure when redistricting. Please tell us what you think about the plaintiffs' argument in Evenwel v. Abbott. Yakima's current city council is all about Evenwel v. Abbott. Mr. Cawley came to Olympia all about Evenwel v. Abbott as the "local remedy" that might make the city's long and obvious history of Hispanic vote dilution go away. What do you think about that?

    1. Thank you for your comment. Evenwel v. Abbott is another headache associated with districting. Please read my last post about how political elites manipulate districting for their own benefit—and to the detriment of Latinos and other minorities. Mixing race with gerrymandering is toxic. I have also written about Yakima in other posts. As you will see, I believe there is strong evidence of racially polarized voting in Yakima County.

      Changes to an election systems invites the strict scrutiny of the courts and cases like Evenwel result. We’ll see what the judges say. The current Yakima City Council has proposed a modified at-large voting system—which has already withstood court scrutiny. This proposal disposes of all of the population / citizen voting age population problems.

      If one clings to exclusive districts, the headaches associated with them are not my issue.

      Washington does not use a nonpartisan commission when redistricting. It is bi-partisan. This means Olympia colludes when making districts safe for themselves. We need a California style INDEPENDENT commission instead of Olympia insiders manipulation maps. Better yet, we can have modified at-large - which allows most voters to elect a candidate of choice. Check out my post on Top-Two Pro for Washington State House elections. With that proposal, most state house districts would elect a Democrat and Republican to Olympia.

      Thanks again for the comment! — Krist

    2. You seem like you mean well and are trying to do the right thing for voters. That said, please stop writing about Yakima based on one proposal, pried out of the city council under duress, that might be something you could get behind. If the current Yakima City Council is acting in good faith then faith just got redefined.

      As of now, the Yakima City Council is pinning all its hopes on Evenwel v. Abbott. The Yakima City Council cares about undiluting the Hispanic vote a whole lot less than it chafes at the prospect of reimbursing the ACLU even one dime for suing it into the 21st century. Yakima was on notice of a potential VRA violation long before the ACLU filed suit, but the Yakima elite could not have cared less. I think losing in federal court was a total shock to them. Read Yakima's motion for emergency stay filed a few days ago at the 9th Circuit. That will tell you all you need to know about the city council's good faith in proposing a modified at-large voting system to encourage Latino civic engagement.

      I happen to think that Judge Rice's decision was correct on the law and correct on the facts concerning Yakima's commitment to fair elections. Recall that Yakima's proposed modified at-large voting system didn't withstand Judge Rice's scrutiny, and for good reason. Decades of redlining have concentrated Latinos into remarkably well-defined areas of town. It's about time these areas get represented on the city council.

      I don't see the need to make change move any slower for the old power elite who suddenly think getting pried out of their council seats by "those" voters should be held unconstitutional. Evenwel got thrown out of district court for failure to state a claim and then went crying straight to the Supremes. Yakima is essentially doing the same thing. A lot of us here are fed up. We are sick and tired of the council's power hungry fevered egos spending money to keep the council free of minority influence.

      If Evenwel has any traction at the Supreme Court, I am sorry to suggest that you aren't doing anything to prevent that.

    3. It seems like this could be an engaging conversation, however, I cannot get past your condescending remarks hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Saying that I need my head checked and that I seem to mean well, just poisons the atmosphere.

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  2. I did not intend to poison the atmosphere. I stand by my remarks about what is going on with the Yakima City Council. Hopefully you will look into the Yakima situation a little more deeply before disengaging or again touting Yakima as a model of reasonableness. There is a helpful timeline and links to court decisions at:

    The city's Emergency Motion Under Circuit Rule 27-3 should be posted soon.

    1. It looks like you have an ax to grind with the Yakima Council and that is your business. That does not give you the right to disrespect me. I am a big kid and I can take it and really appreciate the breadth of your knowledge. However, what I do not appreciate is your veil of anonymity. Why should I trust you, really, who the heck are you? And I know the timeline and have been reading the court rulings. There you go again with the condescension by assuming I know nothing!

      Mike Faulk has written some really excellent articles on this matter, except for the piece he did today regarding Micah Cawley. If you have seen yesterday's hearing, you’ll recall Sen. Roach cut my testimony short too. And she not only also cut off ACLU lobbyist Shankar Narayan, she nailed him to the floor — where he finally admitted he thought it was better to sue a city like Pasco than let them remedy any potential minority vote dilution themselves. That is condescending to assume that the city’s leadership are so stupid that in the course of districting, they would not create districts that would be inclusive of minorities. I mean the whole point is to get away from the liability of a VRA lawsuit situation. No wonder the WA VRA is dead in its tracks? The GOP says the bill is too litigious while the proponents make statements that make it sound like they can barely wait to sue people!

      I support comprehensive immigration reform, a path to citizenship and other policies that level the playing field for hard working Latinos. I think if more Latinos were citizens, they would feel like they have a stake in our state and nation. This makes for a better society. But don’t think that majority-bloc voting only impacts minorities. Look at a lot of county commissions in our state. It’s basically the same older white guy siting in every seat. Modified at-large voting gives political minorities a voice too.

      I should add that I think Sen. Roach’s hearings can be colorful and appreciate how she engages people. And Theresa who testified yesterday was very well spoken. I think we are really all on the same side.

  3. I live in Yakima so yes, I have an ax to grind with the Yakima Council and so does everyone else who lives here. My veil of anonymity is mine to lift when I choose. You don't have to trust me.

    Thanks for the additional report from the hearing. We probably are really all on the same side, although I firmly believe that old white power doesn't give up power willingly, ever. If the Yakima council wanted to avoid litigation it would have responded to the ACLU's concerns with something other than "sue me." Yakima took the risk, and Yakima lost, and now the Yakima power elite is grasping at any straw to make it not be true. That's not something I respect or condone.

  4. Krist, I'm glad you're working for the greater good. But I do want to take the time to thank you for your music. That music is by far my favorite and when I first heard it, it was life changing. It made me want to learn guitar and write my own music. Which I have done. Between full time day jobs and joining the Army I never had the time or the band to move forward with my music. But things are coming together now and when I get my music uploaded I'll post a link. Because the best way to give thanks and give back to those who inspired you is to share the music you were inspired to make I think. Anyway, my real name is Dan. I'll catch you later.