WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Political representation of Latinos in Sunnyside, WA, is on the front burner of the Sunnyside City Council this year, largely as a result of research conducted by Ian Warner for a 2006 politics seminar at Whitman College.

Warner, a 2007 Whitman graduate, was part of a seminar taught by Associate Professor of Politics Paul Apostolidis. The course resulted in a groundbreaking report on the social conditions of Washington’s Latino population. “The State of the State for Washington Latinos” can be found in its entirety at www.walatinos.org. The research Warner did on voting rights in Sunnyside catalyzed local debate about the issue and also gained the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to an article in the Yakima Herald-Republic published Wednesday, Jan. 2, scrutiny from the Justice Department began near the end of 2006 after the Herald- Republic published several articles about Warner’s research into the city’s at-large elections. He found the election process to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act because its at-large system produced racially polarized voting patterns that in effect kept Hispanics (who represent 73 percent of the city’s population) off the council.

The city intends to change its at-large system to a system of three at-large seats and four seats representing specific geographic districts.The city decided to make the changes, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic, last summer after the federal Department of Justice notified the city that its system did, as Warner had concluded, violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Warner currently works for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.

Whether the proposed change (part district and part at-large council seats as opposed to entirely district-based elections) will be enough to solve the problems in Sunnyside, said Apostolidis, is still a matter for debate. Civil rights attorney and Seattle University Law School Professor Joaquin Avila, who was Warner’s community partner in 2006, commented that the proposed change to part district and part at-large council seats may not be enough to resolve Sunnyside’s violations of the Voting Rights Act.“Research will need to be done to determine whether a mixed system will have the same results in promoting racial-ethnic political equality as an all-district-based system,” said Apostolidis, who hopes to see some of the students in an upcoming class address this issue.

Apostolidis, who created the seminar class in 2005 and taught it again in 2006, is co-teaching a special edition of the research seminar this spring that will focus exclusively on voting rights. Apostolidis and Gilbert Mireles, assistant professor of sociology, in partnership with the League of United Latin American Citizens (northwest regional and Washington state chapters) will guide the project. Students and their LULAC partners will choose Washington jurisdictions and craft specific analytical approaches to each location collaboratively, said Apostolidis.

“The students will do a combination of the sorts of inquiries that Ian Warner and other students did successfully in 2006,” said Apostolidis. “They will both examine the electoral rules and structures in light of the Voting Rights Act requirements and evaluate efforts being made by local organizations (schools, churches and civic groups) to register and mobilize Latino voters and to spark other kinds of political participation by Latinos.”

Starting in January, he added, their work will be supported by a grant Apostolidis’ State of the State for Washington Latinos project received last spring. The Learn and Serve America innovation grant of $15,000 will be matched by a $7,500 grant from Whitman. In receiving the grant, Whitman joined the National CBR Networking Initiative, a network of community-based research practitioners funded by Learn & Serve America and spearheaded by Princeton University and the Bonner Foundation.


CONTACT: Lenel Parish, Whitman College News Service, (509) 527-5156

Email: parishlj@whitman.edu