There has already been much debate over whether racial bias was partly responsible for the surprising vote totals racked up in the August primary by Bruce Danielson, a little known candidate for the state Supreme Court.
Although he raised no money and ran no campaign, Danielson won 30 of Washington’s 39 counties and got nearly 40 percent of the statewide vote in his race against State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez.
Gonzalez won the election and will appear unopposed on the November ballot, but the primary results raised questions about whether a large chunk of voters, particularly in Eastern and Central Washington, had opposed him due to his Latino surname.
Now Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political science professor, has released an analysis that shows “racial voting bias” indeed played a role in the Danielson-Gonzalez race.
Voters in Central Washington had little information available about the contest because the state declined to print a voters guide due to budget cuts. The nonpartisan race also offered no clue on the ballot as to the partisan ideology of the candidates. Gonzalez had campaigned in the area, raised $300,000, was regarded as highly qualified, and won the endorsement of the Yakima Herald-Republic.
Yet voters in Grant and Yakima counties overwhelmingly marked their ballots for Danielson, the virtually unknown lawyer from Kitsap County. In fact, Danielson outperformed the top Republican candidates for governor (Rob McKenna) and Senate (Michael Baumgartner) in the area. Danielson got more support than Baumgartner in every precinct in Yakima County.
The UW analysis looked at the results in heavily white precincts versus heavily Latino precincts and found deep racial polarization.
In Yakima County, the regression estimates that across all precincts 68.6 percent of Latinos
voted for González while just 25.1 percent of non-Latinos voted for Gonzalez – a 43 point
voting differential between Latinos and non-Latinos. Analyzing Grant County results yields
very similar trends. Based on the data across precincts, the model estimates that González
received 68.7 percent of the Latino vote and 29.5 percent of the non-Latino vote – a 39 point
Danielson has suggested voters may have looked at his web site and liked his conservative views on the Constitution – in other words, voting for him based on ideology rather than race.
But Barreto found no evidence for that. In addition to Danielson outshining well-known conservatives like McKenna, Barreto noted that Supreme Court Justice Susan Owens, generally described as “center-left” in her ideology, received 60.5 percent of the vote in Yakima County against lesser known opponents who did not have Latino last names.
The results show that, had it been up to Eastern and Central Washington, Gonzalez would have lost to a vastly less qualified opponent who did not even campaign. The fact that he won was only attributable to more populous Western Washington counties. “That should set off serious question marks,” Barreto said.
In an op-ed in The Seattle Times, Barreto and David Perez, an attorney with Perkins Coie, argue that Washington should pass a Voting Rights Act to give a better shot to Latino candidates in Central Washington, who struggle against the same “racially polarized headwinds” that showed up in the Gonzalez-Danielson race.
That law would push cities and counties toward district-voting systems, which have proven to elect more racial minority candidates than citywide or countywide elections.