Federal judge redraws legislative map in central Washington

Judge’s ruling came with the general election less than eight months away.
Mail-in ballots

With the general election less than eight months away, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik adopted a new Washington state legislative map on Friday to create a majority-Latino voting district in central Washington.

Lasnik’s decision comes after his ruling in August 2023 in Soto Palmer v. Hobbs that legislative maps drawn in 2021 by the Washington State Redistricting Commission for the Yakima Valley “cracked” – or diluted – the Latino vote.

The decision was Lasnik’s as a result of the state and Secretary of State Steve Hobbs being sued after the Washington State Redistricting Commission completed its work. Plaintiffs claimed the original map failed to comply with the federal voting rights law.

The new map joins Latino communities from East Yakima in Yakima County to Pasco in Franklin County. In addition, the district was switched from the 15th Legislative District to the 14th Legislative District, with the thinking being this will ensure state Senate elections fall during a presidential election year when Latino voter turnout is generally higher.

Conservative Latino leaders in the state had expressed concern that a federal court could redraw disputed 15th Legislative District boundaries in such a way as to leave Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, without her seat.

The senator herself does not approve of Friday’s decision.

“I am personally very disappointed in Judge Lasnik,” Torres said in a statement. “He allowed the misuse of the Voting Rights Act to allow a partisan gerrymander of the Washington state redistricting map.”

She went on to say, “This map DECREASES the numbers of Hispanics in Washington’s Majority-Minority district.

“This map moves me out of my district. I can stay the next two years, but then I will be cut off from helping the constituents who I grew up with and who I love to serve.”

The Washington State Republican Party also put out a statement decrying Lasnik’s ruling.

“WAGOP is disturbed to read the opinion issued today by federal Judge Robert Lasnik in the matter of our state's recent legislative redistricting plan,” the statement said. “Lasnik's opinion is a heavy-handed, partisan usurpation of the Washington Redistricting Commission's lawful and orderly work. For decades, Washington has – by relying on a bipartisan redistricting commission – a​voided the partisan bickering that plagues many states.”

The Republican Party recommended a way forward, legally speaking.

“Lasnik's opinion is a mistake,” the statement concluded. “It needs to be stayed and appealed. A less-partisan appeals court will likely demand a more reasonable solution to the state's redistricting questions.”

The general election is Nov. 5.

This is a developing story.