In 2017, I began investigating a subtle voter suppression issue after Latinx voters reached out. Guadalupe Gamboa and I documented the egregious voter suppression in Yakima County: local county officials throwing out Latino ballots based on a perceived "signature mismatch." After documenting the administrative failures and contacting the Secretary of State, the state oversaw the county's certification process. Many of the signatures that were once "mismatched" were found to match with SOS oversight.
It was apparent the 2017 issue was not an anomaly but systemic discrimination pervasive in other counties within the agricultural heart of the state. I continued to investigate and analyze voter data over a period of three years and brought it to the attention of the UCLA Voting Rights Project in 2021. In the 2016 Presidential Election, Latino voters were 10 times more likely than Anglo voters to have their ballots rejected for a perceived "signature mismatch." On May 7, 2021, Amend Law and UCLA Voting Rights Project filed a federal Voting Rights Act/1st/14th and 15th Amendment claim against Chelan County, Yakima County and Benton County. In September, 2021, I recruited Gibbs Law Group, a national class action law firm interested in pursuing voting rights work.
Gibbs Law Group brought a wealth of resources and expertise in civil litigation and put Latinx attorneys on the case.
Early on in the case, Judge Salvador Mendoza, the Latino federal district judge assigned to hearing the case, recused himself after his own ballot was challenged for a signature mismatch: https://www.nbcrightnow.com/news/thousands-of-latino-ballots-rejected-latino-judge-hearing-the-case-recuses-himself-after-discovering-his/article_456a87d2-174b-11ec-86f6-bb78a7ab2639.html
In August, 2023, two of the counties, Benton and Chelan, settled and agreed to implement practices to stop voter discrimination, such as requiring Spanish language translation, conducting voter outreach and complying with cultural competency and signature verification training. In December, 2023, the last county, Yakima settled under the same terms.
The plaintiffs and witnesses in this lawsuit represented a diversity of Latinx voices. They included a statewide civic leadership organization, the Latino Community Fund of WA; national LULAC, a Wenatchee School Board candidate who ran for school board in her senior year of high school, Arlette Lopez-Rodriguez; a doctor who ran for Prosser City Council in Benton County, Maricela Sanchez; an elder farmworker from Wapato in Yakima County who faced police intimidation, Pablo Alcantar; a hardworking contractor and father of 6, Daniel Reynoso from Yakima County; and 8 other witnesses and plaintiffs. Throughout the investigation and lawsuit, I provided paid internships for law students and local Latinx aspiring lawyers through Heritage College Law school Pipeline Program. These communities of voting citizens mobilized to stop voter discrimination and demand systemic change in all three counties.