Last night, in the basement of the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, a passel of neighborhood activists gathered at tables to coordinate and celebrate the beginning of the Seattle Districts Now signature-gathering campaign. Their goal: 30,943 valid signatures in the next six months, which will ensure their amendment to the city charter reaches the November ballot.
If it passes, Seattle would elect its city council in a hybrid system of both district and at-large council seats.
As we've reported in the past, this is slightly different from previous attempts to get city council district elections. For one thing, they've already designed a district map, so voters know exactly what general boundaries they're voting on. Each district has a population within 1 percent of each other district, and they'd be redistricted based on the census every 10 years. Also, they're keeping two seats at-large, so the entire council wouldn't be based on neighborhoods. They call this "the best of both worlds."
Last night, talk focused heavily on articulating arguments to make district elections sound exciting to registered voters. Here were the two main ones:
• District elections would make it easier for younger, less monied, less politically connected candidates to run. This hybrid system would "reestablish the face-to-face, grassroots style of politics," said spokesman Cleveland Stockmeyer. It could inspire candidates to knock on doors to get votes, instead of the current method of "[spending] hours on the phone with people with the most money." There was a lot of talk about reducing the influence of the well-heeled Downtown Seattle Association.
• District-elected candidates would be much more accountable to voters. Check out this graphic, which is on the bottom of their flyer (full PDF of the flyer here):
SEATTLE DISTRICTS NOW
From the Seattle Districts Now flyer.
A council member would have to live in their district, Stockmeyer explained. "You represent specific people, and you're accountable to them."
The petitions should hit the streets by March 1, and the campaign is using a mix of paid signature gatherers and an organized volunteer effort, led by the activists in the room, to get their 30,000-plus names on paper.