Photo courtesy of Seattle Districts Now
The new proposal would break up City Council elections into seven different districts and two at large positions.

Rethinking City Council elections

Ever wonder what city council member represents you?

Well, don't, because under the current system, every city council member represents you. That's because they are not divided by district, but rather, by committee. In fact, Seattle is one of the only cities in all of the nation with over 500,000 people which does not elect its legislative arm by district.

A new group, Seattle Districts Now, is looking to change that.

On Sept. 27, the group held a press conference unveiling a plan and a map marking the different districts. Rather than trying to make every council member elected by district -- a plan which has been proposed and failed before, in 2002 -- the plan includes seven council members being elected by district and two at large. District members would serve four years each and at large members would serve two years.

The map, created by Dr. Richard Morrill, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Washington, outlines seven districts, one of which includes the northwest quadrant of Seattle, where Ballard lies. The districts are based on the 2010 Census and no one district differs from another by more than one percent in population.

The idea is to help connect different parts of the city with the city council, and to make sure that every part is represented. Though city council members elected at large may have good intentions, often times they are clustered together, and therefore may not be quite so behold or connected to some parts of the city. The new district appointed positions would ensure otherwise.

“Over the years, Seattle City Councilmembers have been often clustered in certain neighborhoods, while other areas of the city haven’t had a council member who knew and understood their area’s needs and concerns," said Suzie Burke, of Fremont Chamber of Commerce, in a press release. "A mixed District/At-Large system would ensure that no part of our city goes unrepresented."

Another concern is that soaring campaign costs could make it impossible for many to run for city council, which may have racial, class and/or regional implications.

“The cost of a winning City Council campaign has soared from $210,000 in 2005 to more than $270,000 in 2011,” said John V. Fox, founder of Seattle Displacement Coalition, a social rights group for people with low income. “With a mixed District/At-Large system, most campaigns would see their voter contact expenses cut to 1/7th of the current cost and candidates could win by doorbelling precincts, rather than relying on expensive mailers and TV ads.”

Several people have already endorsed the proposal, including Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) and Rep. Mary-Lou Dickerson (D-36). It is also supported by several business leaders, such as Burke and Faye Garneau of Aurora Ave Merchants Association, who are both working on the campaign.

There is plenty of time to hammer out the plan and for the community to provide input. The proposal wouldn't go to a vote until 2013, and wouldn't be enacted until 2015, giving time for transition. The group will be holding community outreach meetings to spread the word, the first of which took place Thursday, Oct. 18. Petitions and more information are available on the website, www.seattledistrictsnow.org

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