The Political Representation of Latinos in Washington

Ian Warner
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This report examines the political representation of Latinos on the city council of Sunnyside, Washington. What is the impact of at-large elections and racially polarized voting upon the political representation of Washington’s largest minority population?

Methods:

This report began by collecting census data about Washington State’s Latino populations. By compiling election returns and voter lists the report presents detailed information about current voting trends and their impact on city council elections in the state. The report specifically focuses on Sunnyside, Washington. Sunnyside was chosen because it accurately represents the apparent discrepancy between Latino populations around the state and their political representation. 75% of Sunnyside’s population is Latino while there is currently only one Latino on its city council. The statistical presentation of racially polarized voting is accompanied by testimonials of voters in Sunnyside and an interview of a Latina politician involved in several recent elections. The report employs the scholarly research of academics in order to establish the historical importance of voting rights litigation and the relationship between the Voting Rights Act and my findings.

Findings:

The most significant aspect of my report is in reference to the 1982 amendments of the Voting Rights Act. Sunnyside constitutes a situation in which all three requirements for a minority population to bring suit against the state are fulfilled. (1) Sunnyside has structural obstacles to the electoral success of minorities, such as at-large elections; (2) in Sunnyside behavioral patterns that interact with the social obstacles to exaggerate the political power of the majority- – i.e., racially polarized voting exists; and (3) a resulting under representation of the minority community relative to is proportion of the population is present in Sunnyside. These facts the provide grounds for a re-examination of the use of at large-general elections in Sunnyside and other cities around the state.

Recommendations:

My research demonstrates that that the at-large election format in Sunnyside is in violation of the Voting Rights Act. An alternative election format, such as district elections, should be implemented. In addition, there should be a renewed effort in Sunnyside and elsewhere to increase voter participation.

Community Partner:

The inspiration for my project was initiated by my community partner Joaquin Avila, assistant professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law. Professor Avila’s previous work and expertise was central to creating the direction that my project was to take and the conclusions that it has produced.

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