Only about one-quarter of Seattle residents approve of the job our city council is doing, according to an October 14 SurveyUSA poll, and yet voters seem unwilling to support two ballot measures that would fix problems with the way we elect council members—measures that would encourage more challengers and promote more competitive races.

The survey, which questioned 557 likely Seattle voters in the upcoming election, found that only 28 percent of respondents "approve" of our city council's job performance. By contrast, controversial mayor Mike McGinn has an approval rating of 36 percent—making him more popular. But while McGinn is losing in polls to retain his job against a well-funded, politically pedigreed opponent, of the four council incumbents up for reelection this year, Richard Conlin is arguably the only one facing a serious challenge, from socialist Kshama Sawant (and even that is a long shot).

Why are poor-performing council members not attracting viable challengers? The prohibitive cost of running a citywide council campaign scares many off (winning a council race usually requires $250,000), leaving a small crop of wealthy donors free to max out contributions to incumbents every election (some have already maxed out contributions for city council races slated for 2015), essentially buying a legacy of political influence.

Two November ballot measures would disrupt that cycle: Proposition 1 would establish a public campaign financing system to encourage challenges from candidates who don't necessarily have a quarter-million dollars. Participating political candidates would need to raise at least $10 each from 600 Seattle residents, at which point those donations would be matched six-to-one with public funds. Sound expensive? Not really. It would cost the average property owner less than $7 a year. The other is Charter Amendment 19, which would make seven council members elected by districts instead of citywide (leaving two at-large seats). Proponents say that campaigning in smaller districts makes it easier for challengers to reach voters and run a competitive race on a smaller budget.

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But despite the dissatisfaction with our city council, a measly 15 percent of SurveyUSA respondents planned on voting for public campaign financing. Districts fared slightly better—30 percent of respondents said they'd vote for Charter Amendment 19. Still, those numbers aren't great.

"Since ballot measures coast-to-coast (not just in the city of Seattle) almost always underperform their poll support levels, it is unclear whether Charter Amendment 19 has enough momentum to pass," the SurveyUSA poll notes. "The measure could go either way." recommended