Take a look. Where do you live? A zoomable version is right here.
Chris Stearns, an attorney who recently served as chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, sent an e-mail to colleagues today that raises concerns with the districts measure, Charter Amendment 19. By a 63-36 margin, voters decided to require that the Seattle City Council be elected by seven districts and two-at large seats (currently, all council members are elected at-large).
"Crap," wrote Stearns, "it looks like from the text of Charter Amendment 19 that the Seattle voting district boundaries are already drawn... I think there is an urgent need for someone like the Seattle Human Rights Commission to study the current district lines and investigate whether they will positively or negatively affect minority voting in Seattle."
But this isn't a new issue. As we mentioned back in October, some folks (rather quietly) opposed the districts proposal because it came with a pre-fab map that includes only one district with a majority population of racial minorities (District 2). A coalition of local progressive and labor groups wanted a nine-district map that would include two such districts. (A nine-district proposal failed most recently in 2003).
What matters now is that this is the measure that passed—and it may pit council members against each other! So now is a good moment for everyone to get acquainted with their district. The transition will be a little bumpy, but eventually you'll be voting for city council members every two years.
FINDING YOUR DISTRICT: Wherever your address puts you, that's your new city council district. If you live directly on a street that serves as a district boundary, like a stretch of North 85th Street in Greenwood, the line is in the middle of the street, just like it is for legislative districts.
EVERY COUNCIL SEAT UP FOR ELECTION: Starting in 2015, you'll be voting for one city council member who lives in your district and two at-large council people who represent the entire city (they can live anywhere in town).
STAGGERING ELECTIONS: In 2017, at-large seats will be up for election again, because those seats are voted on the same year as the mayor. Seattle Districts Now spokesman Eugene Wasserman says that was deliberate: "We set it up that people who run at-large have to run when the mayor runs, so if they ran against the mayor they’d have to give up their seat." That means any current council members wanting to run at-large in 2015 would have to run again two years later just to keep the seat.
NEW NORMAL: In 2019, you'll vote just for your district council member, after they've served a four-year term. The first opportunity to redraw district boundaries will come after the 2020 census, when a redistricting commission will be formed to address population shifts reflected by census data. In 2021, you'll vote for the two at-large positions again, rinse, repeat. Got it?
How's this going to affect the current council? Why, I'm so glad you asked! Here's how it stands now:
Tom Rasmussen lives in District 1. Sally Clark and Bruce Harrell live in District 2. Richard Conlin lives in District 3. Jean Godden lives in District 4. Nobody lives in District 5. Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien live in District 6. Tim Burgess and Sally Bagshaw live in District 7.
That means three districts have council members that could—could—run against each other (if they both try to go for the district seat).
Kshama Sawant has already said she'll challenge Richard Conlin in the Capitol Hill district (District 3) where she also lives. And Wasserman says someone on his campaign looked into the primary results by district and said Sawant beat Conlin in their district. (We haven't independently confirmed that yet.) If Sawant did win in 2015, that would mean a person of color would've won a seat that's not in the more racially diverse District 3. Meanwhile, city hall watchers generally assume Godden will retire before she has to run again. Speculatively, I'd think centrist Clark would want to run at-large and leave Harrell to run in the Southeast Seattle district, and perhaps Licata will retire instead of running against fellow progressive O'Brien in their Fremont/Ballard/Green Lake district (District 6). But unless people move to other neighborhoods, it looks impossible for all the incumbents to have seats after the 2015 election.
If the Human Rights Commission—or anyone else—does want to tinker with the map, the soonest they could do it is 2020. At that point we may know if the districts have any impact on the racial composition of the council. As Stearns says, "I am pretty sure that the Amendment 19 proponents drew the boundaries without seriously considering proportionate voting patterns." And it's true—the districts campaign did not draw their map specifically to empower underrepresented populations, as districts are sometimes drawn. But district proponents have long disputed that their map has a race problem. They say districts encourage younger, more diverse candidates who can win races by knocking on doors instead of raising mountains of cash. Wasserman also points out that the state's only majority-minority congressional district so far elected a white man, Adam Smith.