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Council supports enactment of Washington Voting Rights Act by state Legislature

Summary

Urges adoption of law requiring equal opportunity in elections

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The Metropolitan King County Council adopted a motion today calling on the Washington state Legislature to enact the Washington Voting Rights Act, a measure aimed at addressing underrepresentation of minorities in local elected office.

“Supporting the Washington Voting Rights Act is consistent with King County’s commitment to social justice and equity,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, prime sponsor of the motion and Chair of the Council’s Government Accountability, Oversight, and Financial Performance Committee. “Our vote today promotes equal opportunity for all citizens to meaningfully participate in our democratic system of government, regardless of race or color.”

“For too many years, the law was used as a weapon to prevent communities of color from being full participants in our democracy,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “The voting rights act is an opportunity to protect the growing minority communities throughout King County and all of Washington state.”

If approved by the Legislature, the Washington Voting Rights Act would promote equal representation by helping ensure local elections could not be maintained in a manner that dilutes the votes of a protected class. Under the law, voters could challenge local elections in state courts when racially polarized voting denies a protected class an equal opportunity to elect candidates of its choice or an equal opportunity to influence the outcome of an election.

“The results of the 2010 Census are an indication of the growing diversity of not only King County, but all of Washington state,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “By supporting this legislation, the King County Council can help to ensure that all communities are full participants in every aspect of the election process, the bedrock of our democracy.”

“We must continue striving to protect minority access to voting,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “Removing barriers that impede people’s right to vote promotes fairness and strengthens our communities by broadening democratic participation.”

By providing a state-level means of redress, the law enhances existing protections under the federal Voting Rights Act. Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment’s prohibition against states denying citizens the right to vote based on race or color.

The Washington Voting Rights Act is modeled after a similar law passed in California in 2002. Since California adopted its measure, there has been a significant increase in minority representation in local elected offices and in civic participation among minority communities.


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