YAKIMA, Wash.-- One by one staff at the Yakima County Elections Office is counting the ballots.
“We’re hoping for a 30 percent overall turnout and things seem to be going well for now,” said Yakima County Auditor, Charles Ross.
Yet, hours away from the voting deadline in Yakima’s historic primary election for City Council, the number of voters doesn't seem to be matching the expectation generated by a new voting system.
In February a federal judge ordered a new district-based elections system for all seven council seats after the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) successfully sued the city under the Voting Rights Act. The new voting system was designed to guarantee Latinos a greater voice in this and future elections, but the new system doesn't seem to be making a difference.
“Well historically we’ve always see the turn out to be anywhere from 10-12 percent and we’re seeing the same numbers show up, so there’s not been a large increase in turn out in that population,” said Ross.
As of Monday afternoon 6,208 people in the city of Yakima had cast their ballots, with only 661 out of those voters being Latino.
Even in the majority-Latino districts, 1 and 2, most ballots submitted are from non-Latinos. Of the 323 ballots received in District 1, only 135 were from Latino voters. In District 2, 163 of the 394 ballots received were cast by Latino voters.
"Jose," a Latino voter is among the very few who has turned out to the ballot box.
KIMA asked him: Why do you think there aren’t a lot of Latinos voting? He said, "I think it's lack of information. Many times we don’t know anything about the candidates, who they are and what intentions they have with the community.”
District 3 candidate, Carmen Mendez; running in a non-majority Latino district, says the change will eventually come.
“This whole thing, this whole process already has been huge for the city. We’ve been able to have the most Latinos ever to have filed for candidacy, so I think this is a good opportunity and you know it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time to build confidence and build community.”
Despite the low voter turnout thus far, a record eight Latino candidates are running for council, with a guarantee that District 1 will elect a Latino.
And while the odds may be against Mendez, she is doing her part to let Latino voters know they can make the difference with their vote.
“ I’ve been door belling to all of my Latino residents in my district and letting them know that I can’t win without them,” says Mendez.
Nearly 32,000 ballots were mailed out to voters in the city of Yakima living in council Districts one through six.
People in District seven did not receive primary ballots because only two candidates have filed. They will advance automatically to the general election.
Despite new election system in the city of Yakima, Latino votes remain low
As of Monday afternoon, less than 1,000 Latino voters turnout at ballot box, despite new election system designed to increase Latino representation in Yakima politics.