NEW REPORT: The History and Lessons of Latino Under-Representation in Washington State

Seth Dawson, Christine Kiely, Lauren McCullough

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This report examines legal and community barriers to Latino representation on city councils and school boards in ten Washington State counties. We studied three specific questions: What is the electoral history of Latino representation in Adams, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Okanogan, Skagit, Walla Walla and Yakima counties from 1983 – 2011? What challenges have Latino elected officials faced while serving in office, and what barriers exist to Latino political inclusion in Yakima county? How might community dynamics and the process of enacting electoral reform inhibit, or contribute to, Latino political success in Sunnyside?

Methods: To construct an electoral history of all jurisdictions involved, we obtained the full electoral records from the auditors’ offices in all ten counties and conducted an analysis of the these records using the Department of Justice Latino surname list. To better understand the community dynamics that pose challenges to Latino representation and participation, we conducted interviews with key community members and Latino elected officials in each of the cities analyzed in Yakima County. We dedicated a majority of those interviews to Sunnyside, which recently adopted election reform.


  • Over the last 30 years, Latinos have comprised 21.6% of the population in these counties but have been elected to only 2.7% of their city council and school district seats.
  • There are two major barriers to Latino representation: 1) a lack of Latino candidates, and 2) opposition by non-Latino candidates. Both of these barriers are exacerbated by at-large elections.
  • Despite election reform, Latino underrepresentation remains an issue in Sunnyside. Sunnyside’s mixed single-seat and at-large election system may contribute to the persistent problem.
  • Generational and inter-racial tension affects perceptions of Latino voter engagement, which also affects services offered to Latino community members.
  • Low Latino representation and voter participation in Sunnyside is perpetuated by few opportunities for leadership and candidate development.


  • The State Legislature should pass a Washington Voting Rights Act to facilitate challenges to local electoral systems which function as barriers to minority representation.
  • The Secretary of State’s office should compile, maintain and digitize complete electoral records for all local jurisdictions in Washington State.
  • Cities should provide translators at all public city council and school district meetings.
  • Cities attempting to address minority underrepresentation through electoral reform should use single-member districts than mixed or at-large election systems.
  • Washington State should provide funding for community organizations to conduct sustained nonpartisan voter outreach and leadership development programs specifically targeted at Latinos.
  • Cities facing minority underrepresentation and low voter turnout should address both issues through a sustained, multi-year effort.

Community Partners: Professor Joaquin Avila, National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative.


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2 Responses to “NEW REPORT: The History and Lessons of Latino Under-Representation in Washington State”

  1. Adream de Valdivia Reply January 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    These findings and the History and Lessons of Latino Under-Representation in Washington State is something that inspires me to create positive change in Washington State.

  2. I agree with several of your recommendations and not with others. But for now, I’m looking only at the format of the study. It would appear that part of one question (number of Latino candidates) has been addressed; but it would be helpful to have more information on WHY filings by Latinos is so rare.