Wenatchee School Board members Katherine Thomas and Julie Norton commented on the district’s new voting district plan and how that will affect elections in 2023.

During their school board meeting on Oct. 11, Thomas reintroduced the topic while the board talked about their search for the next Superintendent. 

Back in June, the board voted to replace their at-large voting system with four individual districts that will represent different geographic areas, along with one at-large position.

This change was made to avoid any legal conflicts with Washington State’s 2018 Voting Rights Act, which was made to ensure there was sufficient representation for minority populations.

This new voting district plan would put all five seats up for election in 2023.

Currently, three board members, Maria Iñiguez, Laura Jaecks, and Katherine Thomas, live in the 2nd District. 

This new election could potentially push one board member out if they lose a regional district election and the at-large position.

Thomas is a new board member, recently elected in the 2021 general election.

Norton currently lives in District 1, and Wenatchee School Board President Martin Barron lives in District 3, meaning they would not be at risk of losing their seat.

The board’s attorney, Danielle Marchant, explained to the board back in June that they needed to change their election process in order to avoid violating the state’s VRA.

Thomas later said that she wanted to get a second opinion from another law firm to review whether their original voting process was truly violating the VRA.

“I'm interested in having their perspective on us remaining in our position for the four year terms that we were elected for,” Thomas said. “I know that we've heard from Danielle [Marchant] and she's given us her perspective on that, but I am interested in pursuing our other law firm that's on retainer or to look at that for us.”

Board member Laura Jaecks informed Thomas that hiring a second firm would cost the district money.

“I just would like to know, why do you think having another attorney come in, I mean, it will cost us money to do that,” Jaecks said. “What is it that's telling you that we're gonna get some different answer by doing that?”

Norton asked the board whether the board fully looked at all their legal options before they reached their final decision.

“I think we're still at a point where if there's an ability to do it, we could amend this resolution before we have to finally approve it,” Norton explained. “I don't think there's clarity on whether there [were] additional opinions provided. I don't know that it changes anything. I think some of us feel like maybe we owe it to constituents to at least vet that a little bit further because of this uncertainty.”

Board Vice President Maria Iñiguez shared that last year’s election could be used as evidence of a voting rights violation after the board lost two Latin-American incumbents.

“I think we need to remember why we are moving forward: the potential of a violation, the evidence that has been there,” Iñiguez said. “Are we doing this for the betterment of our community to imply that we are in line with the act, or are we doing it because we don't want to campaign again, to retain our seats? Is it about a greater purpose, or is it about us personally?”

Wenatchee School Board President Martin Barron suggested that the board get a legal refresher and how that will affect the 2023 election.

“As far as the other aspect of the reason for redistricting,” Barron said. “I feel very strongly that that is something that we should be doing, it was considered over a lengthy period of time, and I think that is a timing decision that is correct and should not be changed.”

Norton later clarified that she and Thomas were not looking to overturn the board’s new electoral process, but rather to take a second look at some of the details of the plan.

The Wenatchee School Board will vote to finalize these electoral district maps this general election term in November.

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