by Gina Biber
– The Capitol Hill Times –
“Of the largest U.S. cities, Seattle and Portland are the last two to have citywide elections for all Council seats,” James Bush of Seattle Districts Now (SDN) told the Capitol Hill Times. “Every other major city has gone to either a district system or a mixed-system, like we’re proposing.”
SDN is a citizens group that was formed to change the way that Seattle City Council members are elected in Seattle. Currently, Seattle maintains nine citywide Council members. SDN aims to shift this figure to seven district Council members, one for each district, and leave the remaining two seats citywide.
“Philosophically,” Bush said, “I think that any city that has more than 100,000 people needs some sort of district elections. It’s a matter of fairness and giving different parts of the city a voice.”
Bush explained that there are winners and losers any time our government takes action, since proposals have different effects on different neighborhoods. Having district Council members who are able to keep track of what’s going on in their own district, and then explain the issues to Council members living in other districts would bring prospective to and from each neighborhood.
“As well,” Bush said, “when you have Council members elected citywide, they tend to be the same types of people. They often don’t have strong points of view because they’re elected trying to appeal to everyone in the city, the majority. I think that if you look at the current City Council members, they are all very similar politically.”
Behind the scenes, lines determining each of the seven districts were drawn with the help of a retired University of Washington professor and geographer, Dr. Richard Morrill, who referred to census block groups when making decision. Boundaries were fixed with the desire to make each district as uncontroversial as possible. For example, the Southwest District is divided along the Duwamish River, and no boundaries needed to be drawn—it’s just Shoreline and the city line.
Seven of the nine Council members being elected by geographic location would provide each district with representation, ushering in citywide balance and perspective.
In order to stager the terms, the two citywide candidates being voted in this year would accept two-year terms, but everyone running on the ballot in 2015 would be elected to serve four-year terms as Council members.
Candidates for the at-large seats could live anywhere within the city, while candidates for a specific district would need to reside in and be a registered voter in the district that they wanted to represent at least 120 days before filing.
When asked what would happen if one of the Council members moved someone else in the city during their term, Bush said, “If you’re a Council member representing a district, and you move to another district, you’re no longer eligible for office. You are essentially resigning your council seat by moving away.” In that case, the other Council members would appoint a replacement, which would be somebody who lived in that district.
As Seattle grows, the more important district representation becomes.
SDN will be around Seattle to promote this issue and collect signatures from now until the end of June. You can also visit SDN’s website at seattledistrictsnow.org to download a petition.
“We’re hoping to get enough signatures to get this on the ballot this November,” Bush said. “The requirement is a little over 28,000 signatures, but we’re trying to get well above that, around 40,000 or 50,000 signatures.”