Tri-City Herald: Pasco sets example in balancing voting districts

As they redraw city council voting districts, Pasco officials are making the wise choice to ensure at least two of the five have a Hispanic majority.

Pasco City Council members are considering three options and will hold a second public hearing on the proposals Feb. 23. Regardless of which map is chosen, it makes sense the voting districts be configured to reflect Pasco’s demographics, which, according to the latest data, is a 54 percent Hispanic population.

Whether this will inspire more Latinos to run for city council remains to be seen, but at least the boundary lines will be set up to encourage that effort.

This is in contrast to the situation in Yakima, where a federal judge ruled last fall the city’s voting districts and at-large election system diluted the Hispanic vote. The city was ordered to redraw its voting district boundaries.

Fortunately, Pasco, with its five voting districts and two at-large city seats, has not found itself in such lopsided circumstances. However, the rapid growth in the city, especially at the west end of town, has forced the city council to reconfigure its voting lines every couple of years, as they can’t have more than a 10 percent deviation in population among them.

While they contemplate their options, Pasco officials are smart to pay attention to Yakima’s plight. Even though they will not need to make sweeping changes, they should be aware of the demographics in each voting district.

All three boundary maps being considered include the transfer of an area just north of downtown, including Pasco High School and the Franklin County Courthouse, from District 3 to District 2. This change would give District 2 a 52 percent majority of Hispanic voters.

All three options also keep District 1 unchanged, and 61 percent of its voting age population is Latino. According to Pasco city staff, although Districts 1 and 2 would have the largest Hispanic blocks, there are a significant number of Hispanic families represented in all the districts throughout the city.

This strive for balance is important, and it would be heartening to see more Hispanic candidates run for office. Currently, Councilman Saul Martinez is the lone Hispanic council member. Judging by national statistics, that puts Pasco in rare company.

According to the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., only about 2 percent of Americans have ever run for elected office. That includes everything from city government, school boards, commissions or state and national positions. Most of those who have run for office, according to the Pew study, have tended to be white, male and well-educated.

Out of these elected officials, the Pew study found that 82 percent were white, while only 6 percent were Hispanic.

The imbalance is unsettling. Diversity in government is important, and elected leaders should, ideally, reflect their community.

Pasco city officials are on the right track by setting up voting districts to better represent the city’s demographics.