Seattle’s shift to district elections shook the rug of local politics.
SEATTLE voters’ decision to elect their City Council by districts has paid off. The switch, which got its test run in Tuesday’s primary election, is shaking up the status quo at City Hall. Before the switch, in 2013, the City Council had an average age of 61, and didn’t look like the city it represented, in terms of ethnicity.
Initial primary results suggest the next council might have the first female majority since 1999. Several leading candidates are far younger and more racially diverse. Smart, hardworking, first-time candidates emerged across the city. Many of them say they wouldn’t have run without the switch to districts.
District elections didn’t lower the cost of campaigning. Nor did it solve the quandary about how to raise voter turnout for a summertime primary. Voters are sun-soaked and absent this time of year, but a 30 percent turnout is embarrassing for an educated, civic-minded city.
The next test of district elections will be whether they force City Hall to better connect with city-dwellers’ needs. While affordable housing sucks up the oxygen in debates downtown, crime is the pressing issue in many neighborhoods. And for good reason: Fifty-one people were injured by gunfire this year, according to Seattle police data; reports of gunfire are up 25 percent from last year.
The urbanist solutions to transportation and development favored by Mayor Ed Murray and much of the current council need a full airing in districts. Many Seattle Times readers who responded to a recent questionnaire were alarmed about the pace and consequences of the city’s current growth spurt.
District elections’ first test drive produced candidates with clearly differentiated solutions, but too few voters engaged with them.”
Who is going to represent their interests on City Council? Will the next council have as much diversity in solving these problems as it does in representing the city’s shifting demographics?
That depends on voters. District elections’ first test drive produced candidates with clearly differentiated solutions, but too few voters engaged with them. It’s time for the city to wake up and seize the chance to aim the bullhorn back at City Hall.