In politics, the biggest changes often start in small places.
In 2014, the ACLU challenged the at-large City Council districts in the City of Yakima under the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU argued that electing councilmembers at-large diluted the influence of Latinos, who make up about one-third of Yakima’s voting-age population, but had never been elected to City Council. The lawsuit prevailed, and Yakima drew seven brand-new districts.
At Progressive Strategies NW, we’re passionate about not only the big races, but the races that build our future. That’s why we were honored to work with two young Council candidates – Dulce Gutiérrez in District 1 and Avina Gutiérrez in District 2. Dulce graduated from the University of Washington and returned to East Yakima to become a community volunteer and start her career. Avina boasted experience as a small business consultant and assistant to a Texas legislator.
Like Avina and Dulce, we believed that the Council districts were an incredible opportunity to expand representation. We also knew they were a challenge. Low turnout and feelings of disenfranchisement are common throughout East Yakima. Many voters are Spanish language only, and many were not even registered to vote. Additionally, some long-term voters needed special outreach to understand and support the new system.
We knew the campaigns would require a healthy mix of field work, targeted mail, and community outreach. We worked with Dulce and Avina to develop plans that included bilingual mailers, outreach to non-traditional voters, voter registration drives, community engagement, and tailored messaging. We developed shared goals including increasing Latino participation, engaging voters on the local issues that mattered to them, and undertaking an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign.
The PSNW team couldn’t be more proud of what came next. Avina and Dulce’s incredible work paid off, with a record-high percent of Latino participation and big victories of 69% and 85% apiece. The election saw a huge increase in Latino turnout, with Hispanic voters constituting a majority of the electorate for the first time in a non-Presidential election. Likewise, a record number of voters in both the Primary and General were first-time participants in a local election.
For us, these were not only good races with great candidates – they were a labor of love. PSNW is proud to have been a part of this historic election.