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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 20 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 38
Charter Amendment 19 - Once again, Seattle takes a hard look ?at district elections in November
Section One
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Charter Amendment 19 - Once again, Seattle takes a hard look ?at district elections in November

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

This November, a charter amendment that would create voting districts in the city of Seattle will appear on the ballot for the third time. First proposed 18 years ago, the measure would have the city elect most of its council members by district instead of electing all of them citywide.

City Charter Amendment 19 would require the election of seven city council members by district, while leaving two positions at large. Every decade a commission would re-draw the district boundaries to bring the smallest district's population to within one percent of the largest.

CONTRASTING VIEWS
Proponents say district elections would result in a council more responsive to neighborhood concerns. 'A Council member who lives in your district and knows the challenges your neighborhood faces can pass that information on to their colleagues, who can then craft solutions that serve all neighborhoods,' said Sarah Moseley, a proponent of the measure. 'District representation would make for a better informed more connected City Council.'

Opponents, naturally, differ. 'Right now, we elect council members to one of nine positions, which aren't tied to any geographic area in Seattle. Whenever they vote, their vote affects the whole city. Under a districting model, any laws passed by city council members would still affect everyone in the city,' said Marjorie Rhodes and Herm Ross of Choices Not Districts, an organization opposed to the amendment.

Seattle Districts Now, the grassroots organization that proposed the amendment, which will appear on the November 5 ballot, believes it would also reduce the cost of running for office.

CAMPAIGN COSTS RISING
In 2005, winning Seattle City Council campaigns spent an average of $205,000. In the 2011 election, the average had increased to $270,000. Quite simply, at-large council elections are more expensive because candidates must try to reach every voter in a city of more than 600,000 people. Districting the positions would presumably make it cheaper to run - a major reason why most major cities have instituted district elections over the years. Seattle is one of only three of the 50 largest U.S. cities that still elect their entire legislative body at large, the other two being Portland, Oregon, and Columbus, Ohio. Detroit shifted from at-large to district elections this year.

The issue is divisive and both sides appear to have valid points. Currently, Seattle voters have access to all nine council members, but those officials' ability to respond to individual concerns is necessarily diluted by the at-large system. For voters who aim to keep as many LGBT candidates on the council as possible (currently, Seattle has two), Charter Amendment 19 might make it more of a challenge to do so, as the LGBT vote is largely concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods. For more information, visit www.seattledistrictsnow.org (supporters) and http://choicesnotdistricts.wordpress.com (opponents).

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