“Republicans Hatched a Secret Assault on the Voting Rights Act in Washington State”


Republican Paul Graves’ work was about to come undone. In the wee hours of Nov. 15, 2021, he and his fellow Republican on Washington state’s independent redistricting commission had finally prevailed on their Democratic counterparts to agree to the maps voters would use in the upcoming election.

But then Latino voters sued the state, claiming the new legislative maps didn’t give them voting power commensurate with their population. Now, Graves worried, a federal judge was about to force the state to give Democratic-leaning Latinos more voting power.

With the balance of power in Washington up for grabs, he launched a covert attack. He consulted powerful state Republicans. He reached out to national Republicans, including the most influential conservative redistricting lawyer in the country, to discuss funding a lawsuit and get strategic advice. He conferred with a Seattle law firm. And he found a Latino congressional hopeful to act as the face of the lawsuit.

A countersuit was filed — against Graves’ own work. This suit made the opposite argument from the Latino group’s. Yes, the map that Graves and his fellow commissioners had created discriminated. But it had disadvantaged white people and other voters.

Sure enough, as Graves had foreseen, in August of last year the judge sided with the Latino plaintiffs. He determined the Yakima Valley map violated the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 civil rights law that has been the bedrock of voting discrimination cases for over half a century. Section 2 of the VRA prohibits the creation of election districts that deprive voters of color of their full rights. The judge said the maps needed to be redrawn.

Having handed Latinos a win, the judge tossed the lawsuit that Graves had helped generate as moot. Undeterred, the legal team of Benancio Garcia, the Latino congressional hopeful, appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to block the new maps until it had weighed the merits of his claim. The court declined to take the case earlier this month, and it is unclear whether lawyers will now appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Graves told ProPublica he wanted legal action that would slow down the court because he believed the plaintiffs were about to push through “a naked partisan gerrymander.”

“My singular goal, once a lawsuit was filed, was to defend the maps,” he said in a statement. His work is described in sworn depositions and court documents, including emails and other communications introduced as exhibits.

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