This November voters will make choices that could result in fundamental changes in the makeup of Congress and the Washington Legislature.
Closer to home for Everett voters, they may also make a fundamental change into how they are represented on the Everett City Council, as voters consider at least one if not two proposals to switch to district representation for council seats, ending some 50 years of representation on the city council by representatives elected at large.
The change has been sought as a way to increase public participation in city governance as well as provide a stronger voice for neighborhoods that felt some lack of consideration from a city government that was seen by some as less responsive to neighborhoods in south Everett and other neighborhoods.
Everett Districts Now, following a lengthy process that started in 2016, had proposed a ballot measure — complete with a map of districts — that would have divided Everett into five districts of generally equal population, electing five council seats by district with two elected at-large. But Everett Districts Now last year failed to collect enough signatures to put the measure on last November’s ballot.
Where Everett Districts Now did succeed was in raising the issue’s visibility among Everett residents and getting most if not all of the current council members to consider making such a change.
But that change now could get bogged down among two competing proposals, possibly confusing the issues for voters in November if forced to choose between the two.
With Everett Districts Now — joined by the Snohomish County League of Women Voters — still pursuing plans to resubmit its redistricting plan on this November’s ballot, newly appointed Council President Paul Roberts has proposed launching a process that would examine the issue through a council-sponsored public process with the intent of placing a districts plan on the November ballot.
Roberts, in November, had discussed a process that would have had the council appointing a committee to lead the process, but he has since amended his plan. Because of the relatively tight time frame between now and November, Roberts’ latest proposal — up for consideration tonight before the city council — would have the council lead the process, using a hired facilitator, but maintain the emphasis on public participation, including workshops and public meetings where comment would be collected and considered.
Among the options that could be reviewed would be a districting plan very similar to Districts Now’s, with five council members elected by districts and two at-large; four seats elected by district and three at-large; the districts’ boundaries; and options that would have district residents choose candidates in both the primary and general elections or just in the primary election with all city voters participating in all council races in the general.
To get a measure on the November ballot, the council would have to approve ballot measure language by July to submit to the county Auditor’s Office. Roberts’ proposal envisions scheduling a workshop to launch the process in February, with additional workshops and hearings between February and May.
Everett Districts Now has every right to go its own way and work to resubmit its ballot measure for November. But there’s potential here — if supporters with Districts Now and the League of Women Voters agree — to assist with the council’s process. That’s an approach that has support from Councilmember Jeff Moore and others.
Districts Now previously has objected to reconsideration of its proposal, noting the effort its members put into considering options and its work with a consultant who drafted its map. And while it’s appreciated that Districts Now made the effort to include members of the public, it can’t substitute for the broader reach that city government has through an official public process.
Everett Districts Now’s assistance, because of its background knowledge and previous work, would be valuable to the council’s process. But that effort would be of little value unless Everett residents have the opportunity to consider more options than only the proposal Districts Now has settled on.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the 5-2 and 4-3 proposals, some that the editorial board has previously recounted. As well, the map drawn for those districts has to take care as it draws boundaries so that no neighborhood has an advantage over another in choosing its district’s representation.
Ultimately, if Everett voters are to consider a significant change in city government and how they are represented, they need to be allowed the opportunity to consider the full range of options for how districts would work in Everett.