SHB 1413

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

As of March 27, 2013

Title: An act relating to establishing a voting rights act to promote equal voting opportunity in certain political subdivisions by authorizing district-based elections, requiring redistricting and new elections in certain circumstances, and establishing a cause of action to redress lack of voter opportunity.

Brief Description: Enacting the Washington voting rights act of 2013.

Sponsors: House Committee on Government Operations & Elections (originally sponsored by Representatives Moscoso, Hunt, Santos, Liias, Ryu, Fey, Upthegrove, Dunshee, Tarleton, Pedersen, Bergquist, Hudgins, McCoy, Maxwell, Cody, Jinkins, Appleton, Sawyer, Roberts, Fitzgibbon, Habib, Reykdal, Pollet, Ormsby, Green, Kagi, Freeman, Riccelli and Farrell).

Brief History: Passed House: 3/07/13, 53-44.

Committee Activity: Governmental Operations: 3/26/13.


Staff: Karen Epps (786-7424)

Background: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) prohibits discrimination in elections. The VRA contains several sections, some of which affect all states and localities. All states and localities are prohibited from using election practices or procedures that impair the ability of a race or language minority group to elect its candidate of choice on an equal basis with other voters. In certain parts of the country, not including Washington, state and local governments must also receive advance clearance from the federal government for any changes in voting practices or regulations. States and political subdivisions are prohibited from conditioning the right to vote on the voter's ability to pass a literacy, subject matter, or morals test. Private citizens, as well as the United States Attorney General, may sue to enforce the VRA.

Summary of Bill: Establishes the state Voting Rights Act (Act), which prohibits at-large and district-based elections from being imposed or applied in a manner that denies a protected class an equal opportunity to elect candidates of its choice; or to influence the outcome of an election. Protected class means a class of voters who are members of a race, color, or language minority group.

The Act applies to elections held to elect members of the governing body of certain political subdivisions, including the following:

Political subdivisions are authorized to change their election systems to avoid a potential violation of the Act. This includes changing from at-large elections to district-based elections, or changing from district-based elections to a different district-based election plan. District-based elections means a method of electing members to the governing body of a political subdivision in which the candidate must reside within an election district that is a divisible part of the political subdivision and is elected only by voters residing within that election district.

In implementing a district-based election system, the districts may not be drawn in a manner that denies a protected class an equal opportunity to elect candidates of its choice or influence election outcomes. Redistricting must occur within 45 days of invoking authority under the Act to switch to a district-based election; and periodically, pursuant to a plan developed no later than eight months after receipt of federal census data.

After a political subdivision invokes its authority to switch to a district-based election system or redistricts pursuant to the Act, it must order new elections for the next date authorized by state law for conducting elections. The districting plan must be adopted with full and reasonable public notice, including at least one public hearing held at least one week before the plan's adoption.

Districts must:

If a fire protection district has commissioner districts, the commissioner districts must be drawn in compliance with the Act. The boundaries of public utility district commissioner districts may be changed by court order under the Act.

Demonstrating a Violation. A voter who is a member of a protected class and who resides in a political subdivision where there is a violation may bring an action in superior court to stop the violation. A violation is shown by demonstrating that the elections in the political subdivision polarized voting and members of a protected class lack an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice or to influence election outcomes. It is not necessary to prove that there was an intent to discriminate against a protected class.

An action may be brought by:

To find polarized voting, a court must:

A court may find a violation resulting from polarized voting even where protected class members are not geographically compact or concentrated so as to constitute a majority of the proposed or existing district-based election district. A violation may be found even where a candidate who is a member of a protected class was previously elected in the district.

Remedies. A court may order appropriate remedies. The court may issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, and may not require the plaintiff to post bond or any other security. The court may also impose a district-based election district that is tailored to remedy the violation. Mandated redistricting requirements include the following:

Procedures for an action in superior court are established as such:

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Available.

Committee/Commission/Task Force Created: No.

Effective Date: Ninety days after adjournment of session in which bill is passed.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony: PRO: This bill provides a process where communities of interest can respectfully petition for a change in the election process when it can be demonstrated that communities or neighborhoods are not able to elect people from their neighborhood. The Federal VRA already creates a possibility of litigation, but this bill avoids that by bringing communities together with the jurisdiction to discuss whether there is a problem and whether it can be worked out without litigation. This bill will not come into play in situations where there are not enough people running for office. For this bill to have an impact, there must be a choice of candidates available to voters. The remedies provided in the Federal VRA are one size fits all and focus on litigation. This bill would allow for local control of election systems, allow a local jurisdiction to craft a local alternative that is unique to their jurisdiction, and focus remedies on mediation and local solutions as opposed to litigation. This bill does not prescribe a particular solution to a local election problem. This bill is designed to tailor a solution that fits that specific jurisdiction. This bill does not require district-based elections to be imposed on a local jurisdiction. There is no new legal exposure for a local jurisdiction under this bill. The California VRA has enabled a much larger number jurisdictions have voluntarily examine and change their election system before being sued. This bill enables a local jurisdiction, upon becoming aware of an election problem, to tailor whatever solution it wants to solve the problem.

CON: School districts have a mix of elections in this state: at-large elections, district-based elections, and a mixture of both. It is a complicated process to make a change from one to another, but sometimes districts do make changes. Normally, there is a movement to at-large elections because it is easier to ensure that there will be candidates running for the various positions. HB 1413 could limit the actual local district's choice in which type of election method is used and it could limit a school district's ability to have a full compliment of candidates running for positions. The major concern about this bill is that local governments, including school districts, could be held accountable for and sued for circumstances that are beyond their control. Local governments do not decide who runs for office, who registers to vote, who votes in elections, and who they vote for in those elections. There can be election abuses, but the Federal VRA provides recourse for citizens. There are concerns about how this bill will work when there are very few candidates or just one candidate up for the positions. Cities are very concerned about this bill creating a cause of action and the potential for millions of dollars in legal fees and litigation costs for the local governments. Under the California VRA, nearly a dozen local governments were sued and the costs to those local governments was over $8 million.

Persons Testifying: PRO: Representative Moscoso, prime sponsor; Toby Guevin, OneAmerica; Shankar Narayan, American Civil Liberties Union of WA.

CON: Dan Steele, WA Assn. of School Administrators; Victoria Lincoln, Assn. of WA Cities.