After a long and often contentious path, a plan to establish district elections for the Everett City Council is set for a decision that could put the issue before voters this November.
Everett Districts Now, for more than two years, has sought a change to how the council is elected, putting in extensive work and campaigning to a plan that would change election of the council members from seven at-large positions to two at-large members and five elected by districts, with the goal of broadening representation throughout the city’s neighborhoods and encouraging greater participation in issues before the city.
Acceptance of district elections among council members and others has required a gradual evolution.
A district system was considered during the city’s charter review discussions in 2016, but was ultimately rejected by the charter review committee and the city council. Those rejections, however, prompted the launch last year of Everett Districts Now campaign last year, which fell short of collecting enough signatures to put the measure on last fall’s ballot.
Districts Now began a second signature drive, but at the same time, the city council launched its own process to put a plan for districts before city voters. But that raised the prospect of voters being confronted with competing measures on the same ballot and possible confusion over which would win out if both received enough voter support.
Voters are likely to have choices to make, but it doesn’t appear to be between competing ballot measures. Following negotiations and discussion among volunteers with Everett Districts Now, council members, city staff and a University of Washington consultant a single ballot measure appears to be ready for the city council’s consideration at its July 11 meeting.
The measure the council is likely to consider has incorporated much of the Districts Now proposal for five district positions and two at-large, with Districts Now indicating it could shelve the signature drive for its own ballot measure.
The effort represents the council’s evolution on districts but has also shown Districts Now’s willingness to work collaboratively with the city to put the issue before voters.
That hasn’t resolved all disagreements on the matter.
Some on the council are likely to seek giving voters a second option to consider: four members elected by districts and three elected at-large.
There’s reason to include the 4-3 option with the 5-2 model, as we’ve written previously.
With some 111,000 residents in Everett now — of which about 52,000 are registered voters — a system with four districts would mean fewer boundaries with the potential to divide neighborhoods between districts and a larger pool of residents from which to draw prospective candidates. Four districts also would mean that Everett voters would still be responsible for electing a majority of the council — three from at-large positions and one from their own district.
Some with Districts Now and on the council have resisted the inclusion of the 4-3 option, citing an online poll that was part of the city’s process in drafting its measure. That poll showed a preference for the 5-2 model, with significantly less support for the 4-3 plan.
But while the poll had a purpose in generating interest in the district process and providing some guidance to the council, it shouldn’t determine what is to be placed before voters. Such online polls are not reliable barometers of the wishes of voters or residents; they are self-selected, are open to vote-padding by supporters of one option or another and don’t provide an adequate sample size to be considered accurate.
From the start of the city council’s district process, the 4-3 model has been one of the main options under consideration. If supporters of the 5-2 plan are certain of the poll’s accuracy, then that will be reflected in the election, regardless of whether the 4-3 option is included.
Both 5-2 and 4-3 options should be included in the ballot measure.
Given the opportunity to make a significant change to how they elect their city council, Everett voters should be given the option to choose between the two models.
The only poll that will matter and can be fully trusted will be that of the voters on Election Day.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial gave the incorrect month for this fall’s General Election. The election is scheduled for Nov. 6.