Bill targets racism in setting up voting districts

A proposal to create remedies to head off gerrymandering provokes worries from cities and school districts.
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A proposal to create remedies to head off gerrymandering provokes worries from cities and school districts.

Gerrymandering a city or school district to minimize the votes of a minority group would be illegal under a state Senate bill.

Most people in a packed Washington Senate hearing room Thursday supported  SB 5473, which would allow someone to challenge an election district's geography if it appears that the boundaries were drawn to block a racial or language minority from being adequately represented on a city council or school board. 

This bill — patterned after the federal Voting Rights Act — sets up a county superior court as the venue for such a challenge. If a lawsuit is filed, it will be up to the judge or jury to examine the demographic information and election district boundaries to determine if illegal gerrymandering took place to block out a minority group from appropriate representation. The proposed law would be applied to cities of more than 1,000 people and school districts with more than 250 students. 

The Senate Government Operations Committee took testimony Thursday on the bill by Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Seattle. Names of the bill's supporters took up six pages of sign-in sheets, but most opted not to testify. 

"For too many (minority) voters feel removed from the government," said Kathy Sakahara of the League of Women Voters of Washington. "They feel its this impenetrable edifice.

"If there is institutionalized racism in the system. I think most people will say: 'We don't want that,'" said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle and a member of the Government Operations Committee.

Two groups — the Washington State School Directors Association and the Association of Washington of Cities -- testified against the bill. Those representatives said cities and school districts are worried about the costs of doing the statistical analyses, and any litigation, needed to comply with the proposed  law.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8