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Originally published Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3:58 PM

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Guest: Vote no on Charter Amendment 19 to elect Seattle City Council by district

As of now, no one on the City Council is beyond your reach as a voter. Let’s keep it that way, according to guest columnists Marjorie Rhodes and Herm Ross.


Special to The Times

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FOR the fourth time, a measure is being put to Seattle voters to elect the City Council by districts instead of the current at-large system.

Presently, you get to vote for and have access to all nine council members. The pro-districting zealots want to limit you to three votes and restrict your choice of candidates.

Council members serve at large regardless of whether they are elected at large or by districts. For example, the Metropolitan King County Council is also composed of nine members, and all nine have jurisdiction over you as a resident of this county. But you are barred from participating in eight of their nine elections because the County Council is elected by districts.

As of now, no one on the Seattle City Council is beyond your reach as a voter. Let’s keep it that way. Vote no on Charter Amendment 19 in the Nov. 5 election.

Districting can lead to elections in which incumbents run unopposed. In 2009, incumbents in four out of five races for Metropolitan King County Council had no challengers. Since 1999, 24 out of 47 Metropolitan King County Council races have only had a single candidate, according to our research.

So why do the districting supporters keep pushing the issue? Because they believe that geography trumps all other considerations.

They believe that currently no one on the City Council represents your neighborhood and that districting would change that. But do the math. Seattle has nine council members. Even if your neighborhood is one of the nine that ends up with a council member, he or she may not be your political soul mate.

The pro-district camp also argues that districting will ensure that your neighborhood gets its share of resources — but resources are often citywide issues, such as public safety and utilities. We don’t need pork-barrel politics.

For neighborhood politics, you should go to your neighborhood councils — the avenues through which neighborhood concerns get transmitted to the City Council.

Districting supporters argue that by retaining two at-large council members, citywide needs will be met. This is not true. Retaining only two is insufficient because it takes five council members to pass legislation.

Another fallacy is that districting makes it easier for a grass-roots candidate to win against an incumbent. In reality, districting protects incumbency because candidates can run only in their own districts and don’t get to choose their opponents. It is also more difficult to beat incumbents elected by districts: look at Congress, the state Legislature and, as mentioned, the County Council.

Districting supporters see old-fashioned legwork, such as doorbelling, as a good way to campaign. But this discriminates against candidates with physical disabilities who are unable to climb stairs. Political forums serve as a better use of candidates’ time than making them stare at “No Soliciting” signs or knocking on doors where no one is home.

The districting advocates say districting takes the big money out of politics, but it certainly has not taken the big money out of congressional races.

And a single wealthy business person, Faye Garneau, has financed the Seattle districting campaign: As of Aug. 1, she has donated more than $172,000.

We need to elect the best-qualified candidates who will work for the common good, regardless of where they live in the city. We don’t need council members with tunnel vision. If Charter Amendment 19 passes, most Seattle City Council candidates would be off-limits to you as a voter.

Marjorie Rhodes is chair of the Choices Not Districts campaign. Herm Ross is campaign treasurer. Website: choicesnotdistricts.wordpress.com




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