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Washington ACLU Files Voting Rights Lawsuit Against Pasco

Courtney Flatt
Northwest Public Radio
Bertha Aranda Glatt is speaks to reporters after she and the ACLU filed a voting rights lawsuit against the city of Pasco.

The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is hoping to change the way elections are run in Pasco. In a lawsuit filed Thursday the group alleges that the city is violating elections laws by not giving Latinos a fair voice in the current election system.

The challenge to Pasco’s current system comes from Bertha Aranda Glatt, a lifelong Pasco resident who ended up running for city council last year. That’s when she said she realized the the system wasn’t fair.

“It’s all about social justice, and it’s very personal,” Glatt said.

Personal because she wants her community, her family to have a voice in what’s happening in her town.

Latinos make up about one-third of Pasco’s voting-age population. But no Latino has ever won a contested city council election in Pasco.

Felix Vargas, with Latino Coalition of Tri-Cities, said the election system in Pasco is a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

“It denies people of color any meaningful participation in the ordience of government,” Vargas said. “In effect Latinos remain disenfranchised as a voting group. This must change.”

Pasco city officials welcome the lawsuit, saying it will help force a change to state law and allow more voice to Latinos.

“This matter is extremely complicated and of great importance to the community as it will change how we select our Council representation,” Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell said in a news release.

The ACLU charges that Pasco’s “at-large” council seats violate the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the Latino vote. The group’s preferred choice of voting system: seats elected by districts.

A similar case in Yakima forced voting changes. There, three Latinos were elected to the city council this past November -- the first three in the city’s history.