Backers of district elections in Everett running out of time

EVERETT — An ambitious attempt to redistribute political power in Everett might not make it to the ballot this year.

Supporters of a measure to elect Everett City Council members by districts are running out of time to gather enough signatures to put their plan before voters in the November election.

Members of Everett Districts Now formally launched their campaign in April under the presumption they had until late July to collect and turn in 8,100 signatures of registered voters to qualify.

But Tuesday, city officials determined the deadline is July 5 at noon. They said it ensures adequate time for getting signatures counted and validated by the Snohomish County elections office and action by the city council to put the measure on the ballot.

It was the first time city officials ever voiced their position on a time line. Those striving to reset the political balance in Snohomish County’s largest city suppressed their consternation at the unwelcome news.

“This could have a pretty significant impact on our ability to get the necessary number of signatures,” said Greg Lineberry, an Everett police captain by day and member of Everett Districts Now off the clock.

Megan Dunn, the group’s chairwoman, on Monday estimated having 1,400 signatures in hand and a couple of hundred petitions in the field. When completed, they could boost the total past 5,000. She said she had circled July 24 on the calendar as the last day to deliver petitions to the county elections office.

Now, Lineberry said, supporters must “take a real hard look” at hiring professional signature-gatherers to supplement their brigade of volunteers.

And they have to calculate if there’s even enough time to pull it off. If there is, Everett could join cities like Seattle, Yakima, Tacoma and Spokane where residents elect council members from their neighborhoods.

The proposed ballot initiative would amend the city charter to require five of the seven Everett City Council seats be elected from five geographical districts of approximately 20,000 residents each. The other two council seats would remain at-large positions.

Dunn, who lives in the Lowell neighborhood, has argued for district elections since 2015 as a way of increasing representation from the southern parts of the city, which have more racially and economically diverse populations.

Today, one city councilman lives in south Everett and the other six live within a mile and a half of Everett High School, according to Lineberry.

The city’s Charter Review Commission chose not to put the idea on the ballot in 2016 and a council subcommittee passed on the idea in mid-February. By that point Dunn, Lineberry and others had already begun the effort to do it themselves this year.

But if Everett Districts Now is unsuccessful this year, the path should be less bumpy in 2018.

The bar to get on the ballot will be lower. Under the city’s charter, the number of required signatures is 20 percent of the number of ballots cast in the city in the previous general election. That means the 8,100 is tied to turnout in the presidential election, a high-water mark. Wait, and the threshold will be based on this November’s turnout, which is certain to be much lower.

At the same time, the politics next year should be more favorable. Legislative and congressional races in November 2018 will bring out a greater number of progressive voters. And it is possible Everett’s next mayor will embrace the proposal with greater warmth than the current city leader.

No one’s looking ahead, yet.

“We really wanted to get it on this ballot this year because there was a sense of frustration that the council was not listening,” Lineberry said.

There’s still time, though not quite as much as they once thought.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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