Under this model, even if a given candidate is popular in her district, she can lose in the general election because the rest of the county likes her opponent better. This can mean the people who end up representing an area on a council or board aren't always the people who best represent that area.
A bill known as the Washington Voting Rights Act is looking to change that. Modeled after a similar law adopted in California in 2002, it would give local governments a way to reform their election systems by getting rid of this at-large voting. If they do not, and citizens are unhappy with their local election model, the law would give these people legal recourse in state courts.
Many community organizations such as OneAmerica that advocate for Latinos support the Washington Voting Rights Act in hopes that it would make election systems more fairly represent Washington's minorities.
A similar proposal failed in the previous Legislature, but Rep. Luis Moscoso and Sen. Sharon Nelson, the bill's sponsors, are trying it again.
The current bill passed the state House of Representatives 53-44 on March 7. Democrat Reps. Kris Lytton and Jeff Morris voted for it; Republican Reps. Norma Smith, Dave Hayes, Dan Kristiansen and Elizabeth Scott voted against it.
The bill is awaiting discussion in the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.
The area with the highest concentration of Latinos in Mount Vernon is split down the middle, with one side in one city council ward and one in another. Both sides are represented by white men, as are all Mount Vernon council wards.
While Mount Vernon's election model is an example of one that could be changed under the Washington Voting Rights Act, the council still won't have any Latinos on it if none run.
Not seeing diversity in government can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, said Skagit Immigrant Rights Council chair jim justice.
"If you don't see it, how can you achieve it?" justice said. "In Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley, there aren't even women on the city councils, much less Latinos. So there's a ways to go to get people into office."
Some groups are working to change that. In January, nonprofits OneAmerica and the New American Leaders Project put on the first nonpartisan immigrant candidate training program in the state. Immigrant leaders who hold office around the state taught participants what goes into a campaign.
Although that event was in Yakima -- where representation of Latinos is also disproportionately low -- two people from Skagit County attended, and they're planning to bring home what they learned. A presentation hasn't been scheduled yet, but one is in the works for later this spring, said OneAmerica spokesman Charlie McAteer.
Ramos, who in 1972 was the first person of color elected to the Ontario, Calif., City Council, said being a sizeable group makes civic involvement a duty for Latinos.
"It's our responsibility to train ourselves in that area and develop skills in that area," he said. "(We need to) teach young people the importance of becoming involved in their community and running for elective office."
Tony Sosa, the third generation of a Mexican immigrant family, attended the Yakima training session and plans to run for office sometime soon.
"I would like to do something, one way or another, in one place or another," he said. "I don't want to wait another four years."
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