Grant aids law school's voting rights work

(April 26, 2011) The National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative based at Seattle University School of Law received a $100,000 grant from the Open Society Institute to continue its important work to ensure fairness in voting.

"This grant will provide critical financial support for these ongoing voting rights activities," said Joaquin Avila, the director of the program and a distinguished practitioner in residence at the law school. "No other law school in the country has a similar program designed to integrate law students with voting rights advocacy efforts aimed at politically empowering minority communities."

The Initiative has been working on various projects to politically empower local minority communities to navigate the complex process of redrawing the boundaries of election districts. The federal Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in assisting minority communities to prevent the implementation of redistricting plans that discriminate against minority voting strength.

The Initiative has been instrumental in providing advice to minority communities and monitoring various redistrictings at the federal, state and local levels. Avila assists the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights for the San Francisco Bay Area in enforcing the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, which permits challenges to discriminatory at-large methods of election in state courts. To date, all of the litigation filed under this new state act has been successful in either the implementation of district-based methods of election or in having the question of whether to convert from an at-large method of election to district elections presented for voter approval.

The Initiative is also engaged in efforts to extend the California Voting Rights Act to the states of Washington, Colorado and Arizona and has been participating in advocacy efforts before the U.S. Attorney General's office to present information that will assist the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether a proposed change affecting voting has the potential for discriminating against minority voting strength.

The National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative is also developing partnerships with professional attorney groups. For example, the Initiative is working with the Hispanic National Bar Association to develop a website where its members can secure information on redistricting and minority vote dilution issues.

The National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative is housed within the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of School. The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.