Washington Voting Rights Act ensures everyone a fair chance at representation
March 12, 2013 · 8:59 AM
By Robin Boehler and Rev. Tom Kidd
In Washington, we pride ourselves on being a state that values fairness and embraces the idea that diversity makes us stronger. As leaders in the faith community, these values serve as the foundation of our religious doctrines and the heart of our respective faith communities, as they work every day to make our communities stronger and healthier places to live.
That is also why we are united in our support of the Washington Voting Rights Act (HB1413), which is now before the state Senate in Olympia after passing the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 53-44.
Our democracy is strongest when every voter has a fair chance to elect candidates of their choice and when our elected officials reflect the diversity of viewpoints and interests reflected by various communities. The Washington Voting Rights Act would provide local jurisdictions with the flexibility to fix broken election systems when it can be proved that they exclude certain communities from a fair chance at representation.
Of particular concern is when at-large election systems allow a slim majority voting bloc to dominate elections and shut out the voices of certain communities and neighborhoods. For example, let’s say a city elects 10 councilmembers at-large. If 51 percent of the electorate supports candidates from one neighborhood in every election, all 10 positions on the council would always be filled by candidates from that neighborhood while other neighborhoods would be silenced. More importantly: Would the votes of people living in the other neighborhoods ever matter?
The Washington Voting Rights Act rests on a simple premise – democracy and local government works best and is most accountable when every voter’s vote matters. For local government to be accountable, all voices need to be heard. But right now, in many cities across Washington, certain communities are shut out of a chance at fair representation in their local city councils, schools boards and other local governments.
At the same time, many local governments have no alternative to fix their broken election systems without intervention in the form of a costly federal lawsuit under Section 2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act, something that recently happened in Yakima.
If the Washington Voting Rights Act were to pass, local governments would be empowered to remedy broken election systems by bringing government closer to the people, including the creation of district-based elections, to ensure that all neighborhoods have responsive government to fix their potholes, patrol their streets and know their residents.
In 1965 and, subsequently, in its multiple reauthorizations, large bipartisan majorities have supported the Federal Voting Rights Act and its underlying values: fairness and diversity makes us stronger. We urge the bipartisan State Senate to embrace these values and make every vote matter by passing the Washington State Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Robin Boehler has served on more than two dozen local and national non-profit boards and is the past board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Tom Kidd is a Lutheran Pastor with a ministry that serves the Bellevue area.