Seattle Districts Now group begins signature drive to put Council change on ballot

The petition has been filed to create a district-based city leadership election system, and now signatures are needed to get the movement to a vote.

Currently, all nine Council members are elected citywide, or at-large. The proposed 7-2 “mixed system” would create seven districts in Seattle, each with about 87,000 voters, and two at large, citywide representatives.

If Seattle Districts Now is able to gather the 40,000 signatures needed to qualify for a city charter amendment on the November ballot and voters approve the plan, the seven district representatives would be elected in 2015:

Two years after that, we’d elect our two at large or city-wide representatives and so it’d would go in alternating election cycles.  One cycle, we’d elect our district representatives, then in the next our city-wide representatives.  

It would ensure city councilmembers are closer to the people they represent and that voters better know their city councilmembers.  And the seven district representatives would provide for geographic distribution of Councilmembers, while giving individual neighborhoods a distinct voice and real access on major issues, while the two at-large representatives ensure that the citywide perspective is maintained. The best of both worlds.  

To start the effort and spread the word, organizers are hosting a Signature Gathering Kickoff Event:

Date: Wednesday, February 20th

Time: 6:30pm – 8:30pm

Location: Rainier Valley Cultural Center

Address: 3515 S. Alaska Street 

We reported on the Seattle Districts Now effort earlier this year:

We like it for the opportunity to take energy currently contained in informal community council and group efforts and giving it a structured shape in city policy. It’s a system that could see more individuals rise from community activist to influential Seattle politicians. Maybe. It could also be simply another way to deal the cards in the same old game.

You can learn more at

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10 thoughts on “Seattle Districts Now group begins signature drive to put Council change on ballot

  1. joanna–please give your reasons for saying district council elections does not make sense.

    Please come to the event Wednesday, hear us out, have a dialogue, and then make up your mind.

  2. All this is, is John Fox, Peter Steinbreuk and the rest of the NIMBY gang looking to consolidate political power in the single family neighborhoods. Just look at that district map – Capitol Hill (and possibly the CD) stands to clearly lose out, being lumped in with Madison Park, Montlake, and Madrona. You have a majority of districts on that map – (West Seattle, Ravenna/Wallingford, Northgate, Ballard/Fremont/Green Lake, and Magnolia/Queen Anne) being primarily the low-rise, single family home areas. Hell, Downtown/Belltown gets swallowed up by Magnolia/Queen Anne. What exactly does Belltown have in common with Magnolia? And the entirety of the south part of the City (where people of color live) is ghettoized into a single district.

    And the 2 at-large seats? Meaningless. I’ve lived in cities with exactly this sort of setup and the couple of at-large seats wind up being non-entities, with political power concentrated in the district seats, which are always skewed on the map to favor homeowners. (a further insult, since the majority of Seattleites are renters)

    Capitol Hill will NOT benefit from this scheme. We are a district with a fantastic concentration of progressive-minded voters – and since everyone currently competes for votes city-wide, we have the ear of multiple councilors – Clark, Conlin, O’Brien, Burgess and even Rasmussen. Heck, Burgess put his mayoral campaign HQ in Capitol Hill.

  3. This is similar to a post on CD News. I am thinking that from the statement above the Capitol Hill Blog is supporting the effort to get signatures and then convert to a district system for electing the Seattle City Council. The fact that a little more thought beyond those who are running the campaign was not presented makes me feel a little sad. Still here are my thoughts:
    I have been attempting to keep an open mind on this and am not having any luck. Why would I want to be preceived as a constituent by only one City Council member or in this case, I guess it would be three. I am biased as not in favor of the scheme to break Seattle into Districts for many reasons and have been for sometime. I want to have a say in all who are elected to Seattle City Council, not just in one District. For instance, I want the Chair of the Transportation Committee and Public Safety Committee to know that I am a constituent. Why would I want just one council member of seven to pay attention and trust that they will get the leverage or care about the issue that I brought before them. I know it is not necessarily easy now, but at least it is not just the ear of one that is important. I don’t see any possible improvement except in the rare case of the district’s rep. happening to be chair of the committee that is of interest at that moment. The entities/elected official themselves do the redistricting or appoint those who do. In visiting and studying other cities, I have the impression that problems can exist with or without at-large or by district elections and that the district type model has numerous problems related to ward type politics, not fun. While the Districts on the proposed map may initially appear somewhat rational, I notice that a little adjustments have had to be made around the boundaries of the Central District (not defined on the map), Queen Anne and others. No boundaries will remain fixed as population must be equalized and are volatile from year to year in the various areas. Due to the need to balance populations in each area lines are never guaranteed and are the drawing of the areas is always very political.

    The fact is that the districts would change over time, if not as soon as any official drawing of lines set in. Incumbents would draw the districts or appoint those who did. If the thought is that somehow the well-off have an advantage now, under this plan the well-off in each area could still dominate the district.

    Even now if you look at where the current council members live, there is Bruce Harrelle in more South Seattle, Richard Conlin in Central and Sally Clark in the South. Nick Licata is in the North and was in Capitol Hill and on and on. Sally Bagshaw is Downtown. Burgess is from Queen Anne. Tom is from West Seattle. Godden is from the Northend. Obrien is from Fremont. I don’t think Districts will do anything but bring ward type politics to Seattle. Again, very time I attempt to be more open minded about this, I end up not having much luck. Anyone can give money to any candidate, be they at-large or by district.

    I think there are important issues facing Seattle and that this is a distraction and will not necessarily improve the conversations in Seattle as a whole or bring us together as a city. I have attempted to research the efficiency of such systems and compare laws and have found no long term advantages to districts. I do not believe, for instance, that many that have District representatives or hybrid have a better record of governance, and some cases it is much worse. The only type of situation that I can find where it may have an advantage is the one that would be good in the situation as portrayed in “Milk.” Yes, in he was able to become elected from a District and likely would have had a tough time in an at-large situation. However, I have not found that Districts over time improve the diversity of the elected officials, and districts have not necessarily served San Francisco that well. It is one of the most expensive cities in terms of housing with few families and children. Remember San Francisco also has ranked-choice voting in its mix.

  4. This is a horrible idea. Every voter in Seattle should have an equal vote! If Seattle makes this change then a voter in a less populated district will have greater power than a voter in a more dense district like Capitol Hill (In the same way that a voter in Washington State has less power over national elections than a voter in a less populated state like Wyoming). This will also open up the door for citywide gerrymandering.

    If this plan wins then people should at least do everything they can to make sure that there is an equal amount of voters in each district. However, that will be impossible over the long term because some neighborhoods like downtown and Capitol Hill will gain population at a much faster rate than other neighborhoods, meaning that if you live in a dense neighborhood where more people want to live – like Capitol Hill- you will have less political power.

  5. If you live in a dense neighborhood like Capitol Hill or if you agree that in a true democracy all voters should have equal power over the outcome of city elections then please do NOT sign this petition. Some of the districts outlined in this plan have way more voters than others and that gap will only continue to grow as more and more people move to downtown and Capitol Hill.

    That means that voters in districts with more people -like Capitol Hill- would have less power over city counsel elections and ultimately less power over what happens in their own neighborhood.

  6. The federal constitution requires that all districts have nearly equal population, and this plan requires that. The population of each district cannot vary by more than one percent, and the lines will be redrawn after every census.

  7. The Seattle Districts Now campaign drew its proposed districts to a standard of having the population of all districts within 1 percent of each other. The reason the North End has three districts is that the North End has about 40 percent of the city’s population.

    Districts are a great improvement for respresentation and accountability in Seattle politics. They will help lesser-funded campaigns compete through direct voter contact.

    Sign that petition!

  8. The School Board is a model of how districts operate, in that if you watch how they work, they all look to the representatives of the specific areas to make deals for the areas in question. In the meantime, either larger interests invest in a slate of candidates or one area of the District is dominate or is more well-represented than the other. There is no reason not to believe that is how this new Seattle City Council scheme would work too. I only wish that the School Board representation more reflected at-large elections. Also the only School Board candidates that the whole city gets to vote for there are the ones selected in the district, and if there is no challenger from specifically that district there is no opposition But, the names of some cities where you believe districts are really working would help.

    There are approximately 621,000 residents. Not all are registered voters and the districts are based on residents, not the number of voters. There are 414,028 registered voters total in Seattle with some areas having more residents who are not registered or eligible to register. So the number needed to elect in each district could and would vary considerably. If all were perfectly balanced in number of voters (not possible) each district would would have about 80,000 voters.

    The ability for various groups including the not so well-off to work together is important. What is to keep these large and well-heeled interests from contributing and running candidates in each district? Yes, maybe a district would have a great candidate or not so great, but then the voters would not be able as voters now to lobby other Council Members as constituents in the case of not-so-great.. Then there is the problem of this great representative getting the leverage for votes needed to actually do some good. Remember all members still get to vote on all the legislation before the representative body. During the reign of the not-so-great representation the district would be at many disadvantages while the city moved on with legislation that favored other areas. We would have to trust that over and over the local representative is the one who will listen to all and have the political savvy to get things done for us. I am not saying that there is not room for improvement in working together for the common interests of an average citizen in Seattle.I just don’t see this as the solution, and at the same time it could be a move that could make things worse.