Community groups urge senators to move on Washington Voting Rights Act

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In a letter sent to Washington lawmakers Monday, 44 community groups pushed lawmakers to pass the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), which passed the House and Senate Government Operations Committee, but is currently stuck in the Rules Committee. 

"The WVRA makes local government more accountable to the people it serves," the letter reads. "Currently, some communities do not have a voice in local government. The WVRA provides tools not currently available in the law to provide solutions. The WVRA does not mandate proportional representation or district-based elections, but instead will give local communities an equal opportunity to elect officials who represent their needs and interests, helping to make elected bodies truly representative."  

The bill allows for district-based local elections and would give members of protected classes, such as racial or linguistic minorities who feel disenfranchised by at-large elections in Washington a way to take legal action in a superior court without the high costs of a lawsuit in district court. 

A federal district judge recently ruled in one such suit brought by the ACLU against the City of Yakima. In that case, the judge ruled that Yakima must conduct future city council elections using its seven geographical districts. The decision came down in February and cost the city nearly $1 million in legal fees. Additionally, the ACLU has since asked for $2.8 million to cover its own legal costs.

When asked if the ACLU's request for the additional $2.8 million from the City of Yakima was just adding insult to injury, ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said no. He adding that the federal Voting Rights Act contains a provision that allows for legal costs and fees to be paid to the prevailing side.
 
According to previous Inlander reporting, Robert Douthitt, a member of the Board of Directors for Spokane Public Schools, says he has concerns that some standards and language in the bill are too ambiguous. 

"What does equal opportunity mean in the context of a really, really small [protected] class," Douthitt said previously. 

Staff writer Jake Thomas contributed reporting to this post.