Courts tossed a redistricting map that elected a Latina to protect the Hispanic vote | Opinion

Heaven help us from people who say they want to help us. Using the advancement of the southeastern Washington Latino community as an excuse, Seattle activists and Democratic Party operatives have convinced a federal judge to redraw a full quarter of Washington’s legislative-district boundaries, from the southeastern corner of the state to Vancouver and Pierce County.

This map, in effect for this year’s election, makes sweeping and needless changes that help Democrats and hurt Republicans. It violates longstanding principles of redistricting and voting-rights laws as well as basic concepts of neutrality and fair play. The federal district court decision even contains a whiff of racist condescension in its assumption that the best interests of Hispanics are served by the election of Democrats, as if that is something a judge can and should decide.

But there is one good thing about the way this case has played out: The facts are so outrageous they could convince the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal. A challenge has reached the 9th Circuit level, and while the Supreme Court has denied a stay to prevent the new boundaries from taking effect, the suit continues. Some elements of this case are so wild the court could find it irresistible. For instance:

The inconvenient election of Nikki Torres

In their lawsuit, activists claimed Hispanics cannot elect the candidate of their choice in south-central Washington’s 15th Legislative District. Then Torres came along and proved them wrong. In 2022 she became the first Latina senator to be elected from the 15th – which is centered on the Yakima Valley and the Tri-Cities, where the state’s Hispanic population is strongest.

In the last redistricting, the boundaries of the 15th were crafted to give the Hispanic population a slight majority, 52.6% of the voting-age population. Yet Torres won by a landslide, 68% he vote, demonstrating her appeal to a broad audience transcending race. So how was Federal District Court Judge Robert Lasnik able to perceive a violation of the Voting Rights Act? Lasnik didn’t see it as significant that a Hispanic was elected in a district that supposedly cannot elect Hispanics. Republicans don’t count.

Lasnik was so dismissive of Torres that he places her district as far away from her residence as possible, and he moves her into a district that is centered on Walla Walla. Torres is allowed to serve the two years that remain of her term. In all, five Republican lawmakers find themselves living outside their districts, and must either move or step down. No Democrats are affected.

Stacking the deck for the Democrats

In his ruling last summer, Lasnik said the boundaries of the 15th District violate the Voting Rights Act because they dilute the voting strength of the Hispanic population. This is an odd thing to say about a district with a Hispanic majority. Lasnik’s remedy was even stranger.

His map reduces the Hispanic voting-age population in the 15th to 50.2%. Many are moved to the 14th Legislative District. When their votes are added to those of liberal Democrats in the district, the 14th becomes a district where Democrats have a 14-point advantage. So that’s Lasnik’s solution, to turn a swing district into a safe district for the Democrats.

But wait a second, wasn’t the goal to make the Hispanic voice stronger?

That’s the really offensive thing about Lasnik’s map. He’s saying it’s fine to split up the Hispanic vote, as long as it helps elect Democrats. Lasnik says he believes Democrats do a better job of representing Hispanic voters. “The Democratic platform is apparently better aligned with the economic and social preferences of Latinos in the Yakima Valley region than is the Republican platform,” he stated in last year’s ruling.

This is what makes me boil

I am a Latina, and I am an elected official, but I’m not a Democrat and I don’t think I should have to be one. I don’t think our courts should be in the business of telling Hispanics who best represents us in Olympia and what our issues ought to be. We are as diverse as the population as a whole, no political party owns us, and none should take us for granted. How is this sort of stereotyping even acceptable?

Lasnik’s ruling, together with his map, abandons any pretense that this is about helping Hispanics, and exposes federal Voting Rights Act litigation as a naked grab for Democratic power. I hope the Supreme Court is paying attention.

Deanna Martinez, deputy mayor of the city of Moses Lake, is chair of Mainstream Republicans of Washington.