Significant changes coming to Everett’s City Council

The first district elections will occur in 2021. Here’s how the transition will work.

EVERETT — Big changes are coming to Everett’s electoral process after voters approved the districting measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Everett is joining 25 other cities around the state that have established wards or districts for electing council members, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center.

“Local government is so close to those that they serve, and with districts you only amplify that,” said Marco Lowe, a political science professor at Seattle University.

Moving to a districting system also will benefit new candidates running for office, he said.

Before the Seattle City Council shifted to seven districts and two at-large positions, candidates didn’t go door to door during the campaign, he said. Instead, the strategy was to raise enough money for mailers.

“(Districting) makes a challenge much easier,” Lowe said. “Incumbents don’t like to hear that, but a motivated doorbeller can take them out.”

Here’s how district elections and the transition to the new system will work in Everett:

In 2019, Everett will begin the shift. That year, council positions 4 through 7 will be up for election. All those seats will be chosen city-wide. Two of the positions, 4 and 5, will have abbreviated 2-year terms. Winners of the other two seats will serve the standard duration of four years.

This would set the stage for the first district elections in 2021 when positions 1 through 5 would be up.

Two years later, races for the at-large seats, 6 and 7, would be held. Councilmembers Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy currently hold the two seats that will remain city-wide.

Once the new system is in place, all district positions would be elected during the same cycle, followed two years later by the at-large seats. The election of the mayor would not change.

To run, candidates are required to be registered voters in the city. They also must reside in the district they are running in for at least six months before the primary election and have lived in Everett at least a year. Council members have to remain living in their district while in office.

The real fight could come when district lines are drawn.

A nine-member districting commission will be tasked with dividing the city into five areas. The mayor and council members each will appoint a member to the group. The commissioners, who must reside in the city, would then appoint a ninth member. A district master would assist them. Every decade, a new commission would redraw the lines based on the latest census data.

In July, council members voted to put the districting measure on the ballot, after a years-long campaign by Everett Districts Now.

The City Council decided on the transition plan based on recommendations from Everett Districts Now and Hugh Spitzer, a constitutional law professor at the University of Washington School of Law.

Districts must be nearly equal in population, as compact as possible and geographically contiguous. They also must follow natural boundaries, according to state law. When drawing boundaries, census population data cannot be used to favor or disfavor political parties or racial groups.

Megan Dunn, a leader of Everett Districts Now, said gerrymandering wasn’t a concern for her.

State law and the public input required for drawing the districts, along with having a qualified district master, will prevent or limit the manipulation of boundaries, she said.

“The commission should consider the areas that have had a lack of representation and try to keep neighborhoods together,” Dunn said.

Maps must be adopted by the districting commission by Nov. 1, 2020, said Meghan Pembroke, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. The draft plan will be available for public comment before it goes to the council.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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