PNS Daily Newscast - March 27, 2020 

The U.S. now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country. Despite the pandemic, Election 2020 continues and states are making changes.

2020Talks - March 27, 2020 

3.3 million people reported being jobless last week, according to new Labor Department numbers. And Puerto Rico was supposed to hold primaries this weekend, though they pushed it back to late April, because of COVID-19.

Will State Senate Vote for WA Voting Rights Act?

February 20, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Today, a state Senate committee takes up legislation to create a Voting Rights Act (VRA) for Washington. Its backers say across the state, not all communities have a fair chance to vote for candidates of their choice because of the election system in their city or county.

This has been a prominent issue in Yakima, where – as in most local elections – city council members serve at-large instead of by district.

Graciela Villanueva, a former Yakima School Board candidate, says she hopes state lawmakers see the need for a change.

"All people have the same needs,” she says. “We want to have safe neighborhoods, we want to have good schools, access to good quality health care. And I think all groups, really, want to have an opportunity to be at the table, to have their thoughts and decisions be part of the process."

Villanueva, who is Hispanic, lost her election to a white candidate who didn't campaign and had, in fact, dropped out of the race.

The Washington Voting Rights Act has passed in the House, where it has about 30 co-sponsors. It is based on a similar law in California.

Yakima's population is about 40 percent Hispanic, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit last year challenging a system that has never elected a Latino council member.

Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington, says the federal Voting Rights Act was drafted to prevent these situations, but he calls it a big, expensive hammer.

He says a Washington VRA would focus on avoiding litigation, and save taxpayers' money.

"Everybody, I think, would rather just see the system change to a fairer system, without litigation,” he says. “And what this bill does is remove some of the barriers that actually prevent local jurisdictions from being able to do that."

Narayan adds the Washington Voting Rights Act would allow local governments time to make voluntary changes to their election systems, such as electing people by district instead of at-large.

A broad coalition of groups endorses the bill, including the League of Women Voters of Washington and OneAmerica.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA