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How Could Ranked-Choice Voting Benefit Yakima County?

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Two dozen jurisdictions across the country have adopted ranked-choice voting. (magele-picture/Adobe Stock)
Two dozen jurisdictions across the country have adopted ranked-choice voting. (magele-picture/Adobe Stock)
August 13, 2020

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Voting-rights groups want Yakima County residents to rank candidates in elections.

How would that benefit the county?

Latino community members and other groups have sued the Board of Yakima County Commissioners under the Washington Voting Rights Act, alleging the current election system disenfranchises the large Latino population.

Colin Cole, policy director for the group More Equitable Democracy said under ranked choice, winning candidates would need to get at least 25% of votes.

He said under the new system, if a voter's preferred candidate failed to reach that threshold, their second choice would move to the top of their list.

"If you can walk into an ice cream shop, you ask for rocky road, and they say they don't have it - if you understand that you don't have to leave the store because you have a second choice - if you get that, you get ranked-choice voting," Cole explained.

Latinos make up about half of the county's population. For its countywide elections of three seats, Latinos have only won a seat once.

The city of Yakima faced a similar issue and drew districts to create better representation. But Cole noted Latinos are widely dispersed throughout the county, making districts less effective.

Aaron Hamlin, executive director for the Center for Election Science, said there are many varieties of ranked-choice voting.

He said the process has to be well-explained and transparent to the public to work effectively, but has potential to create better representation.

"It would definitely give people more of a sense of involvement and empowerment," Hamlin said. "And seeing that through their vote they're actually having a meaningful outcome in terms of making sure that people who represent them are being elected."

Robin Engle, communications and development director for OneAmerica, said the Latino population in Yakima County has been frustrated with the commission, especially in response to COVID-19, which is disproportionately affecting Latinos.

"We heard again and again that the county commission doesn't represent the Latino community, doesn't invest in the Latino community," Engle said. "And that just the way that the democracy is working in Yakima County isn't working."

The Board of Yakima County Commissioners is being sued under the Washington Voting Rights Act but could settle the case.

Commissioners have expressed interest in working with the community to come up with a solution. Two dozen jurisdictions across the country have adopted ranked-choice voting.

Disclosure: Center for Election Science contributes to our fund for reporting on Campaign Finance Reform/Money in Pol, Civic Engagement, Civil Rights. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA