Seattle voters opted to change the way they elect City Council candidates but not to finance those candidates with tax dollars.
A measure to elect most council members by geographic district, Charter Amendment 19, was leading handily in Tuesday’s initial results. But Proposition 1, which would largely finance council candidates with property taxes, was trailing.
If the initial results hold, seven of nine council members would be elected from geographic districts; two would be elected citywide as all council members now are.
Each of the seven districts would have about 88,000 residents. The districts roughly follow geographic boundaries with West Seattle one district, for example, and South Seattle another.
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Seattle voters had rejected districts in previous elections, most recently in 2003. But unlike the failed 2003 proposal, Charter Amendment 19 showed voters a map of just what the districts would look like, and it retained two at-large, or citywide council seats.
Supporters predicted those features would be key to the measure’s success this year. It was leading 64 to 36 percent in initial results.
Proponents said selecting council members by district would give every area of the city a representative familiar with local issues. They also said district candidates would not have to campaign citywide, making it cheaper to run and giving grass-roots candidates a better shot at election.
Opponents countered that district elections result in divisive politics where every member is looking out for their own district with less focus on citywide problems and priorities. They say the present City Council is diverse — three women, two gays, one minority — and its strength means it can be an effective check on the mayor.
The Charter Amendment 19 campaign was almost entirely bankrolled by one North Seattle business advocate, Faye Garneau, who contributed $232,447 of the campaign’s $262,860. The campaign against district elections raised just $5,400.
Under Prop. 1, if candidates raised 600 private contributions of at least $10, they’d receive a $6 match in taxpayer funds for every $1 raised in small contributions, up to a maximum of $210,000. If approved, the program would collect $2 million from taxpayers next year. It trailed by 8 percentage points in initial results.
Proponents said the cost of council campaigns keeps good candidates from running.
But opponents said that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to finance candidates they don’t like. They pointed to research that showed public financing has not made election races more competitive in jurisdictions that adopted it.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org