Two Voting Rights Victories Issued in Washington State

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington state will make changes to its legislative districts and voting rules ahead of the November 2024 elections as a result of two pro-voting court orders issued on Friday. 

In one ruling, a federal judge ordered the implementation of a new legislative district that affords Latino voters in the state’s Yakima Valley region fair representation under the Voting Rights Act. 

And in a separate Friday order, a federal judge signed off on an agreement that ensures Washington election officials will no longer enforce a state law requiring voters to reside in the state (or a specific precinct or county within the state) for at least 30 days before registering to vote in the next election.

Washington’s new legislative district stems from a 2023 court order striking down the state’s current map for diluting Latino voting power.

In an August 2023 ruling, Judge Robert Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington struck down the state’s 15th Legislative District, ruling in favor of Latino voters in the state’s Yakima Valley region who argued that the district unlawfully diluted their voting power under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. 

Although Lasnik’s order gave the state an opportunity to enact a new map, it declined to do so, thereby giving the parties in the lawsuit the chance to submit proposed remedial maps to the court for review by a court-appointed redistricting expert and consideration at a March 8, 2024 hearing. Meanwhile, Republican legislators who intervened in the lawsuit appealed the August 2023 order to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately declined to weigh in on the case. 

In Friday’s ruling, Lasnik adopted a revised version of a remedial map proposed by the Latino plaintiffs known as Remedial Map 3B, which according to the court’s order, “avoids gratuitous changes to the enacted map…while remedying the Voting Rights Act violation at issue.” 

The state’s new 14th Legislative District — which replaces the previous 15th Legislative District — unifies Latino voters in the East Yakima area of Yakima County and Pasco in Franklin County into a single legislative district where they will have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. The court’s order notes that the switch from an odd-numbered to an even-numbered district “ensures that state Senate elections will fall on a presidential year when Latino voter turnout is generally higher.” 

Although the new map will likely result in Democratic Latino voters flipping a Republican-held state Senate seat and two state House seats this November, Lasnik’s order stated that “the adopted map does not meaningfully shift the partisan balance of the State and…it was not drawn (or adopted) purposely to favor one political party over the other.” Rather, the map “remedies the racially discriminatory vote dilution in the Yakima Valley region” ahead of the November elections. 

The Republican legislators who intervened in the case have already appealed Friday’s order to the 9th Circuit and are seeking an emergency pause of the order.

Washington’s 30-day residency requirement for voting will no longer be in effect following a court-approved agreement. 

On Friday evening, Judge Tiffany M. Cartwright of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington signed off on a proposed consent decree that puts an end to Washington’s durational residency requirement for voting ahead of the November 2024 elections. The now-defunct requirement mandated that prospective Washington voters live in the state — or in a particular county or precinct — for at least 30 days in order to be eligible to register to vote and cast a ballot in the next election.

Friday’s agreement resolves a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans in November 2023. The retiree group alleged that the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution as well as a provision of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits states from preventing otherwise eligible voters from voting in presidential elections based on how long they have resided in the state before Election Day.

The legal challenge underscored the fact that the state’s 30-day residency requirement is longer than the state’s voter registration deadline, which allows eligible to register any time up until and through Election Day. In turn, the lawsuit maintained that the requirement unfairly precluded “voters who could otherwise lawfully register and cast ballots from doing so just because they moved into the state, county or precinct too recently.”

As a result of the agreement, which is set to go into effect on or before Aug. 1, Washington voters will no longer have to attest to satisfying the 30-day residency requirement on voter registration forms and will be able to register to vote on or before Election Day regardless of how long they have resided in the state. 

A similar ongoing lawsuit filed in October 2023 challenges North Carolina’s 30-day durational residency voting requirement under the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution. 

Read the redistricting order here.

Learn more about the redistricting case here.

Read the order approving the consent decree here.

Learn more about the durational residency case here.