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Judge approves Washington’s new legislative district maps after court battle over Latino voting rights

A map that shows the approved legislative districts for Washington state as of March 2024.

A federal judge ruled Friday, March 15, 2024 that this map adheres to the Voting Rights Act, teeing up changes for several current lawmakers and for voters in Central Washington.

Provided to Northwest News Network by Campaign Legal Center

A federal judge has finally determined what legislative district boundaries will look like in central Washington. It comes after months of legal back and forth, following the decision last August that district maps drawn in 2021 would need to be reworked.

The court’s latest decision boots some state lawmakers out of their own districts, and critics say the ruling undermines voters in the Yakima Valley.

Judge Robert Lasnik determined months ago that the legislative district boundaries near the Yakima Valley had to be redrawn. He wrote in the decision that the original maps dilute the voting power of the Latino community, violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

In a ruling issued Friday, Lasnik selected a different version of the map to fix that problem, connecting Latino communities across a stretch of the Yakima Valley into the 15th legislative district.

“That community was split across districts. In the map that was adopted today, those communities are unified,” said Ben Phillips, a lawyer with Campaign Legal Center who worked on the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. Phillips praised the decision, saying it will empower Latino voters to elect representatives who are aligned with their priorities.

The new district boundaries primarily focus on the state’s 15th and 14th legislative districts. Some other district boundaries nearby also changed during the process. The new district boundaries will be used for this year’s elections.

But conservative critics say the decision isn’t a fix for Latino voters at all and that the new boundaries are designed instead to benefit Democrats.

“We just find this to be completely upside down, misguided, and frankly, partisan,” said Maia Espinoza, director of the Center for Latino Leadership.

The new maps moved the boundaries enough that Sen. Nikki Torres (R-Pasco) will not be able to run for reelection once her current term expires, unless she moves into the newly drawn district boundaries. Torres is the only Latina in the Senate Republican Caucus.

“This map moves me out of my district,” Torres said in a statement. “I can stay the next two years, but then I will be cut off from helping the constituents who I grew up with and who I love to serve.”

Senate Republican Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) said Friday that two other members of his caucus will be affected, including Sen. Brad Hawkins (R-East Wenatchee). Hawkins is planning to relocate in order to run for reelection in his district this year.

The latest round of redistricting in Washington has been chaotic and unusual. The redistricting commission just narrowly met its deadline to approve new maps in 2021 – the State Supreme Court almost had to step in. And after the new maps were found to violate the Voting Rights Act, Democrats in Olympia decided last fall it was best for a judge to make the final call instead of reconvening the commission. Judge Lasnik nodded to that in the conclusion of his order.

“The task of fashioning a remedy for the Voting Rights Act violation is not one that falls within the Court’s normal duties,” Lasnik wrote. “Nevertheless, with the comprehensive and extensive presentations from the parties…the Court is confident that the adopted map best achieves the many goals of the remedial process.”

This is the 2021 districts map. Judge Lasnik previously said district boundaries in this version diluted the voting power of the Latino community in the Yakima Valley area, violating the federal Voting Rights Act. He decided this map would need to be redrawn.

This is the 2021 districts map. Judge Lasnik previously said district boundaries in this version diluted the voting power of the Latino community in the Yakima Valley area, violating the federal Voting Rights Act. He decided this map would need to be redrawn.

Courtesy Washington State Redistricting Commission

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