Voting Rights of Latinos in Yakima and Enforcement by the State

Lázaro Carrión
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This research focuses on Latino representation in city council positions in Yakima County. Focusing on the particular characteristics of the county, I ask: Why are there low numbers of Latino registered voters? Why is there low Latino turnout? Are enough Latino candidates running for office? How do local Latino community members explain the current conditions of the Latino electorate?

Methods: The data in this report was gathered through thorough research on the U.S. Census data website. In addition, the Yakima County Auditor’s office was visited in order to collect a copy of the voter registration rolls and voter turnout results for numerous elections. However, since this research was primarily looking at Latino representation, only the 1999 Yakima City Council election was selected because it was the last time a Latino ran for a city council position in Yakima City. In 7 of the 14 cities in the Yakima County, there are a substantial number of Latinos in the city council, however, Yakima City has more Latinos than those cities combined and yet does not have a Latino serving in the city council. For this reason, Yakima City is primarily discussed in this research. Moreover, several interviews were conducted in local Walla Walla Latino communities. These interviews were designed to gather further insight on the general understanding local Latino community members have on the election system, opinions on why Latinos tend not to vote and their views on why low Latino representation continues to be a problem.

Findings:

  • Yakima County entered into a consent decree in which it agreed to follow the guidelines established jointly by the Department of Justice in an effort to fully comply with section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (primarily providing materials and services in Spanish that will facilitate full participation in elections of Spanish speakers).
  • The Bilingual Program resulting from the consent decree has improved and increased Latino registration and voter turnout.
  • Yakima City lacks Latino candidates in local city council elections.
  • Latinos in Yakima city are approximately a third of the population, yet comprise approximately a tenth of the total registered voters.

Recommendations: First, voter mobilization efforts targeting Latinos need to improve in order to better mobilize Latinos least likely to vote. Second, Latino communities must effectively promote and encourage Latinos to run for office in order to attain the representation they desire.

Community Partner: This research was carried out through the assistance and guidance of my community partner Joaquin Avila, Assistant Professor at Seattle University School of Law.

 

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