With the recent signing of the Washington Voting Rights Act, Democracy in Washington is about to get a lot more vibrant! This month, Governor Inslee signed the Washington Voting Rights Act into law, ushering in a new era for democracy in Washington State!
For years, communities across Washington have had to live under unfair voting systems that leave many voices out. Currently, many of Washington’s communities use at-large voting in general elections. So, the same majority of voters can decide the result for every council or school board seat in a town, city, or county. As a result, some communities do not have a fair chance to elect candidates of their choice – candidates who will advocate for their needs in local government. In many local jurisdictions, this dynamic has disproportionately impacted lower income communities and communities of color.
The problem has led to successful lawsuits under the federal Voting Rights Act that have changed the election systems in Yakima and Pasco. But such federal litigation is very time-consuming and costly – both for communities seeking fair representation in government and for the jurisdictions that are sued.
OneAmerica Votes community leaders saw this problem and sprang into action more than six years ago when the bill was first introduced in the Washington State Legislature.
Momentum shifted significantly for the WVRA’s enactment following the special election in the 45th legislative district in 2017, when OneAmerica Votes Justice Fund leaders and volunteers helped elect Manka Dhingra to the Washington State Senate, shifting control of the Senate to a new Democratic majority. As the 2018 legislative session began, Representative Mia Gregerson and Senator Rebecca Saldana led the charge for the WVRA. Both Gregerson and Saldana were initially appointed to their seats by the King County Council at the behest of OAV and our allies. In both cases, the local Democratic Party prioritized a difference candidate, and in both cases community members demanded that these qualified women of color be appointed to the legislature over objections from local Party leaders.
The potential impact of the WVRA cannot be overstated.
“The Washington Voting Rights Act will solve real problems that our communities face in Wenatchee,” said Liliana Fausto, a college student from Wenatchee who traveled to Olympia in January to speak to her legislators about the Washington Voting Rights Act. “Right now, in Wenatchee, community funds are not being equitably distributed. On the south side of town, we see broken roads that go unplowed when it snows, and poorly maintained parks and sidewalks. But in Wenatchee’s upper-end, the streets are plowed immediately and the roads are well-maintained.”
“This is due to a lack of representation on Wenatchee’s city council, where a majority of council members live in Wenatchee’s upper-end. This inequity is why I went to Olympia to fight for the Washington Voting Rights Act. With the WVRA, our communities will have the tools we need to fix our unfair voting systems and ensure that all communities in Wenatchee have a voice.”
Just as grassroots communities led the years-long effort to pass the Washington Voting Rights Act, local leaders will be at the center of the Act’s implementation. We look forward to working with local communities to ensure that election systems are fair and take all voices into account.
This victory, six years in the making, was the result of tireless activism from communities who have a passion for democracy. It just goes to show that when we organize, we win!