For Immediate Release
June 15, 2023
Contact: Julian Brookes, firstname.lastname@example.org, 646–673–6224
Today the Washington Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of state’s Voting Rights Act. The decision in Portugal v. Franklin County upholds a settlement reached last year between Latino voters and Franklin County to create single-member district systems in place of “at-large” ones, in which candidates for local office run county-wide rather than from individual districts. The voters argued that “at-large” systems violated the Washington Voting Rights Act by denying voters of color an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. The Brennan Center submitted an amicus brief in the case in support of the law.
Yurij Rudensky, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, had the following comment:
“Today’s ruling is a big win for voting rights in Washington State and beyond. At a moment when those rights are under sustained assault nationwide, the court has affirmed that state law and state courts can protect against discrimination in elections.
“Since its passage in 2018, the Washington Voting Rights Act has ensured that communities of color have an equal opportunity to elect candidates that will represent their interests on county commissions, city councils, school boards, and local governments.
“The steady weakening of the federal Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years has put the onus on states to step in to protect voting rights. Had the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s law in this case, it would have left voters without a powerful safeguard against discrimination in local elections. That would have had significant implications for states that have – or are considering—their own voting rights laws, including California, Oregon, Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey.
“This ruling sends a clear message: states have a crucial role in protecting voters from discrimination, and they are well within their constitutional rights to do so.”
In Washington State in 2020, Latino voters and the League of United Latin American Citizens challenged Franklin County’s at-large election system under the state’s Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs argued that this system, which required all commissioners to run county-wide rather than from districts, shut Latino voters out of local politics. A Franklin County resident opposing the suit intervened and challenged the legality of the state law. The trial court rejected intervenor’s arguments and later approved a settlement reached by plaintiffs and Franklin County. The resident then filed a direct appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.
Related Brennan Center Resources
- “Washington Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to State Voting Rights Act” (May 8, 2023)
- Amicus Brief: Portugal v. Franklin County