The attorney for a Pasco woman suing the city over its election system congratulated city officials Wednesday on their recent progress, but said it’s not enough to give Latino candidates an equal opportunity.
Brendan V. Monahan, a Yakima lawyer representing Bertha Aranda Glatt, agrees that the Pasco City Council’s creation of three Latino majority council districts with a 6-1 plan is a step in the right direction, he said.
However, it’s “an incomplete remedy” because it still uses a hybrid system, with one at-large seat voted on by the entire city and the other six chosen by registered voters in individual districts, Monahan said.
Pasco’s proposed plan constitutes a violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act and will continue to dilute Latino votes, exclude them from the election process and provide them unequal access to the political process, Monahan argued in a federal court hearing.
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Monahan is one of several attorneys representing Glatt, who filed a federal lawsuit against Pasco in August. Her case is being handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
Pasco officials promptly responded to the civil action by acknowledging the likely violation in their electoral process and reaching an agreement with the ACLU.
Then, on Sept. 19, council members adopted the plan changing their system to six council districts and one at-large seat held by a member who lives anywhere within city limits. The six seats would be voted on by district in both the primary and general elections.
That is part of the proposal the city has put before Senior Judge Lonny R. Suko.
The ACLU favors a 7-0 plan, in which council members stand for election in their home districts.
Suko had been expected to hear arguments from the ACLU and the city on Wednesday in Richland’s federal courthouse. Earlier in the week he switched it to a telephone hearing because of weather concerns — some attorneys are based in Seattle.
John Safarli, representing Pasco, argued the city has been working to find a solution for years, but is prohibited under state law from making changes to its electoral process.
He disputed Monahan’s claims that a citywide seat would dilute the vote, saying Latino voter strength is greater in an at-large seat than in District 5 — the district with the fourth-highest Latino population, well behind the top three majority minority districts.
A federal clerk in Richland said about five people were in the courtroom to hear the 1 1/2 hours of arguments played over a speaker.
Leo Perales, a spokesman for the Latino Coalition Tri-Cities, said he was in court along with fellow member David Cortinas and Councilman Bob Hoffmann.
“The city’s counsel is flat-out wrong in his argument that the at-large method in the city’s proposal will not exclude Latino representation given certain variables …,” Perales said in a written statement. “It is time to completely and fully change the way we choose our representatives for City Council in the city of Pasco. The Latino Coalition will continue to support the ACLU and Bertha Aranda Glatt’s proposed remedy.”
The ACLU has pointed out how a Latino person has run for a Pasco City Council position almost every election cycle since 1990, but has never won a contested race.
Glatt unsuccessfully challenged Watkins for his at-large seat in 2015.
Suko asked if he finds that both proposals meet the minimum requirements of the Voting Rights Act, is he required to pick the best proposal or defer to the city’s plan?
“If you were to find that the city’s proposed plan was a complete and full remedy of the admitted violation of Section 2, then (the ACLU) would agree and concede that your honor should defer to that plan,” Monahan said.
Suko said it will take him some time to reach a decision because the “nuances in this case are fairly significant.” He hopes to be done sometime in January.