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This series explores why Latinos have very little political clout in the Northwest, even though they represent the fastest growing ethnicity in the region. These six stories aired on public radio stations around the Northwest in September and October, 2012.Check out the database:Map: Northwest Latino Elected Official Database by StateMap: Northwest Latino Elected Official Database By County

Federal Judge: Yakima Election System Disenfranchises Latino Voters

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

A federal judge has ruled that the way city council members are elected in Yakima, Washington, disenfranchises Latino voters.

That surprise ruling Friday comes exactly two years after the ACLU filed a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the city.

The basis for the lawsuit was that Latinos make-up about a third of the voting-age population in Yakima. Yet, no Latino candidate has ever been elected to the city council.

The ACLU argued the problem was that council members are elected in a city-wide vote. The lawsuit called for council member to instead be elected by district. Now Judge Thomas Rice has concluded that Yakima’s election system “routinely suffocates the voting preferences of the Latino minority.” His preemptive ruling comes just as a trial was set to begin next month.

Judge Rice has now set an October deadline for both sides to submit a proposal for district-based council elections. The city of Yakima could appeal in the meantime.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."