I know it is hard to believe, but the SECB isn't right about everything. Take for example Seattle's proposed Charter Amendment No. 19, District Elections, in which a majority of my colleagues wrongly decided in favor of approval. What can I say? Democracy isn't perfect.
No doubt districts supporters have correctly diagnosed the problem: Whatever the specific merits and faults of its individual members, our council operates as a homogenous mass of quivering slime mold, captured by convention and largely beholden to the same moneyed interests. It's not that they're bad people, it's just that they're mostly indistinguishable.
But I'm just not convinced that district elections is the cure—at least not this particular proposal.
First of all, I am justifiably skeptical of vanity initiatives entirely crafted and funded by wealthy special interests like real estate developer Faye Garneau, who has personally put up $232,447 of the $254,814 the districts campaign has raised. I don't know for sure what Garneau's true motives are, but I sure as hell don't trust them.
Second, while I'm not opposed to district elections in theory, I think this particular proposal kinda sucks. If you buy into the whole districts thing, then a measure with nine districts and zero at-large seats makes a lot more sense. Or, there's a good argument for a hybrid system with a more even 5-4 split. But 7-2? That's just political pandering to those who objected to the previous failed 9-0 measure. And I thought political pandering was one of the things districts was supposed to address. Further, I don't like the district maps, which ghettoize the bulk of Seattle's minority communities into one district, leaving the rest of the other six districts even whiter and wealthier than the existing at-large electorate. Hard to imagine that this is a recipe for diversity of experience, which may explain why organizations and leaders representing communities of color have refused to endorse the measure.
But the deal-breaker for me is that district elections would undermine Seattle's Proposition No. 1, Public Campaign Financing, a measure that would do far more to address the council's institutional problems than even a well-written districts measure ever could. It is the inability of less business-toadying candidates to compete for contributions from wealthy special interests (like Garneau!) that makes our council races so uncompetitive and our council so bland. Based on Seattle's past history with public financing, Prop 1 would help fix that. Except that it would not apply to district elections! So I'm just not willing to risk sacrificing the known benefits of public financing for the wishful thinking of districts.
Besides, if we really want to fix what ails the council, there's a much better solution than districts: Proportional ranked choice voting. For example, there are four city council seats up for reelection this year; under a choice voting system, voters would rank their choices one through four, and the four candidates with the most support would win. Choice voting is a means of giving minority voters (racial, geographic, political party, etc.) proportional representation while giving everybody a say in electing the entire council. It's the best of both worlds.
But, you know, what do I know? Better to leave our method of electing council members in the hands of a wealthy old white lady, right?