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Originally published August 13, 2012 at 4:45 PM | Page modified August 13, 2012 at 5:06 PM

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Steve Gonzalez' election shows needs for vote reform

State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez is the first person with a Latino surname to win statewide office in Washington. His candidacy was hobbled by his ethnicity, underscoring the need for voting reforms that challenge racially polarized voting.

Seattle Times Editorial

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The primary election race of state Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez offers clear evidence why the Legislature should take up voting reforms in the next legislative session.

Gonzalez won the primary. But his opponent managed to pull 42 percent of the vote statewide and capture 30 of 39 counties, all without raising money or campaigning.

What happened?

Bruce Danielson, a little-known Kitsap County attorney, benefitted from a reluctance by some white voters to vote for Gonzalez, a candidate with a Hispanic surname. Racially polarized voting has contributed to a lack of diversity in political office in parts of Washington state, contradicting the electoral ideals of a representative democracy.

More statistical evidence will emerge in the coming weeks from University of Washington researchers conducting a precinct-by-precinct analysis of the primary.

The state should make reforms designed to help voters mount legal challenges to local elections where qualified minority candidates are shut out.

Similar legislative efforts got pretty far in the state House and Senate last session. Rep. Sam Hunt is expected to try again. Lawmakers should get behind the Olympia Democrat.

The politics of racial voting are best illustrated east of the Cascade Mountains. In many heavily Latino areas, there is a dearth of Latinos elected to oversee local parks, schools, fire departments or water and land resources.

Civic résumés are built at the local level of government -- school board, water commission or fire district -- making fairness and equal opportunity there the start of making elected offices more diverse.

Gonzalez, a former prosecutor and King County Superior Court judge, was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. He was endorsed by top Republican and Democratic political leaders.

Gonzalez is the first person with a Latino surname in Washington history to win a statewide race. That his ascent was made more difficult by his ethnicity is a political dilemma that needs resolving.

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