It took them until two hours before their deadline on New Year's Day, but Washington's redistricting commission finally agreed on new voting districts for the state, with the political mapmakers compromising on a new majority Latino district in the Yakima area.
Public outcry called for more direct representation for the state's burgeoning Latino population, and at precisely 9:55 p.m. on January 1 the redistricting commission submitted a plan that complied with the demand. They carved up the 14th and 15th Legislative Districts, adding parts of Yakima, Union Gap, and most of Selah to the 15th, which already included Wapato, Grandview, and other towns in the lower Yakima Valley that are predominantly Hispanic.
The plan is not yet final -- the legislature has 30 days beginning the first day of the 2012 regular session to review and tinker -- but if no changes are made, the 15th will be the first district in state history to have a majority (54.6 percent) Latino majority population. population. Chalk it up as a minor win for Democrats, and a major victory for a group of voters that are currently woefully underrepresented in politics
"Now is the best opportunity for people of color to register and turn out to vote," said Nate Miles, a United for Fair Representation coalition member, in an official statement issued by the immigrant rights group OneAmerica. "Electoral races in these majority-minority districts are especially where our votes will have an impact."
The stated goal is to have about 137,235 people in each legislative district and 672,454 in each congressional district. OneAmerica spokesperson Charlie McAteer has pointed out that while the 15th district now has a majority Latino population, it does not yet have a majority of Latino voters since the count includes people under 18, undocumented immigrants, and permanent residents.
There are now four so-called "majority minority" districts in Washington. The other three -- the 11th, 33rd and 37th -- are all in south King County.
As for the new congressional district gained by virtue of 1 million new people moving to the Evergreen state over the past decade, the commission decided to put set the boundaries in the Olympia area.