Our Voice: Pasco wise to seek out Attorney General’s opinion

Pasco city officials are making an admirable attempt to ensure Hispanic voices are heard, and they should be commended for pursuing a change to the current voting system.

They considered a plan that would allow city council candidates to be elected in their own districts and not citywide, but Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton believes that goes against state law.

So now the Pasco City Council is asking the state Attorney General’s Office for its opinion, as well as requesting the state Legislature change the law so cities can hold district-based elections.

Two bills before the state Legislature this session that would have allowed cities to change their voting methods died, so the issue likely will not be resolved this year. But this is still a goal worth pursuing.

For now, the current process will continue, which permits voters in each district to select their top two candidates for the primary election. Then those contenders move on to the general election in November where the voting is open to all city residents.

The reasoning behind the current system is that city council members represent an entire community, not just a specific neighborhood, so all city residents should have a say in the general election.

Limiting the vote to districts in the primary election, however, ensures all neighborhoods have a representative on the city council.

It’s a fair compromise, but it does not truly factor in the role demographics may play in a community.

Pasco recently re-drew its voting district boundaries so that two of the five have a Hispanic majority. But even so, some Pasco residents expressed concern that allowing a citywide vote in the general election dilutes the Hispanic choice and goes against the Federal Voting Rights Act. They want to limit the voting by district, even in the general election.

It’s smart for Pasco officials to seek a second opinion on the issue, but even if the current system must remain, that does not mean the Hispanic vote in Pasco has to be weak.

When something strikes a nerve, people can rally. We’ve seen that in recent weeks in the aftermath of the Feb. 10 shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by Pasco police officers. Videos of the incident that hit the Internet spurred unrest, marches and meetings for weeks.

The organizers who led the protests should encourage voter registration and participation. Diversity in government is important, and voter turnout is typically dismal. Boosting Hispanic involvement could make a real difference.

Now also would be a good time for those considering a run for office to step up. Filing for the primary election is May 11-15.

Pasco city officials are doing what they can to set up a balanced election process, but it does no good if people don’t participate. Sometimes the best way to change a system is to work within it.