Mount Vernon postpones work on Voting Rights Act

December 8, 2018

MOUNT VERNON — After several months of studying the Washington Voting Rights Act, the Mount Vernon City Council decided Wednesday to wait until after the 2020 census to consider changes to the city’s election process.

The law, passed in June, opens up public entities that have elected positions to challenges that their election system does not give fair representation to minorities.

While one aspect of the law suggests redrawing district borders so that minority voters make up a majority that will let them exercise their political power and achieve more representation in government, Mount Vernon couldn’t find a way to make that happen.

“We couldn’t create a majority Latino district,” said Peter Donovan, project development manager with the city.

The city worked with a demographer to create hypothetical new districts but was unable to create one that was more than 45 percent Latino, he said.

Right now, the city has three districts — called wards — and each is 16 to 20 percent Latino.

With updated numbers from the 2020 census expected in 2021, Donovan said the city will continue its work then.

“We’re not done with this,” he said.

Iris Carías, a councilwoman and member of a city study committee on the state Voting Rights Act, said the city did its due diligence on the issue.

She said she hopes the city has more information to work with after 2020.

Councilwoman Melissa Beaton, who served on the city’s study committee for the new legislation, said she was disappointed with the low turnout at the committee’s three informational meetings.

The law suggests that any changes to the elections process be done in collaboration with the relevant minority communities. A handful of people attended each committee meeting.

Donovan said four city residents responded to the city in writing regarding their thoughts on the legislation.

“We went out of our way and over the top, in my opinion, to advertise ... and ask for feedback,” he said.