Photo depicting a reflection of the Washington State Capitol Building reflected in a pool of water surrounded by trees and greenery.

New Data Indicates That Washington’s Legislature Became More Representative

by Lauryn Bray

The Washington Community Alliance (WCA) recently released its annually updated interactive data set on the demographics of Washington’s local elected officials. The data set identifies each representative by name, position in office, race/ethnicity, and gender, as well as comparing the racial demographics of elected officials to those of the populations they serve. The new data indicates that Washington’s Legislature became more diverse after the 2022 midterm elections. However, legislative bodies are still unrepresentative, at 81% white and 57.1% male, compared to statewide demographics of 63.7% white. 

“The good news is Washington’s Legislature more closely reflects Washingtonians than ever before, with almost 1 in 4 legislators being a Person of Color and the House at gender parity,” said Kamau Chege, executive director of the WCA, in a press release sent to the Emerald. “The bad news is Washington’s county councils are a far cry from representing the people. Out of 137 county commissioners and councilors, only 3 are People of Color. That’s 97.8% white when the state is only 63.8% white. And only about 1 in 4 county commissioners are women.”

The WCA is a statewide coalition of over 70 organizations led by and working in Communities of Color. According to its website, the organization is dedicated to closing the representation gap for People of Color in elected office. Originally founded with the intention to ensure that Communities of Color were counted in the 2020 Census, the WCA is focused toward making the systemic changes needed for “Black and Brown communities to share in the prosperity all of us build.” 

The web tool provides data on state, county, and city representatives, as well as school board members, and indicates that there is no demographic representation within any of these classes. 

“We expected to see County elected officials, such as prosecutors and county councils, skew whiter than the state’s demographics as a whole, given the large number of rural counties that skew whiter on average. But we didn’t expect such a shocking overall imbalance. We also found many rural counties with large Latino populations, such as Grant, Franklin, Adams, and Yakima [Counties] that still lack proportionate representation in County governance,” said Galen Herz, a researcher for WCA involved in the project, in the same press release. 

According to the data from WCA on King County, 71.4% of elected officials are white, 17.6% are Asian, 8.8% are Black, and only 2.2% are Latino. The data also reports that the City of Seattle’s elected officials are 74.3% white, 9.8% Black, 7.2% Latino, 6.5% Asian, 1.1% Native American, 0.4% Pacific Islander, and 0.4% identifying as “other.” Unfortunately, the percentages for State elected officials are similar at 73.8% white, 9.1% Asian, 7.0% Latino, 6.4% Black, 2.1% Native American, and 1.6% multiracial. 

These three groups of numbers obviously mirror one another. In each tier of government — County, City, and State — over 70% of elected officials are white. 

The pattern is hard to ignore. City and State elected officials do not accurately represent the communities within their jurisdictions. Data from WCA also indicates that when looking at the racial demographics of all of the counties in Washington State, 89.7% of elected officials are white while only 63.7% of the state’s population is white.

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 03/29/2023 to correct the demographic breakdowns for all state legislative bodies (city councils, county councils/commissions, state House, and state Senate).

Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.

📸 Featured Image: Washington State Capitol Historic District, Olympia, Washington. May 9, 2016. Photo is attributed to Al Toney (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 license).

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!