Spokane City Council resolution supports ballot proposal on redistricting

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(The Center Square) – Spokane City Council members on Monday approved a resolution supporting a Feb. 13 ballot measure to revamp the process which determines the members’ district boundaries.

Voters will have the final say during next week’s special election.

The city has three defined legislative districts, each with two elected representatives serving on the council. By law, government jurisdictions with legislative bodies at the local, state, and federal levels must establish commissions every 10 years to set voting districts that fairly balance populations based on the most recent decennial census.

As proposed, Measure No. 2 calls for amending Spokane’s city charter to implement a new redistricting process. Changes would include:

expanding the current redistricting commission from three to seven members to provide greater representation reflecting “geographic and demographic diversity;”increasing the number of meetings by the commission in its redistricting deliberations, restricting special interest and political influences, and prioritizing boundaries for neighborhoods and communities “of shared interests” while recognizing natural boundaries; andintroducing an option for citizen-led redistricting and prohibiting the city council itself from modifying district maps.

“… the Spokane City Council understands the need to modify and update the existing redistricting process … in fairness, inclusivity, and transparency,” stated Monday’s resolution, which was approved in a 6-1 vote.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Councilmember Michael Cathcart, who explained he supported the proposed changes and had been significantly involved in writing them along with city attorney Mike Piccolo and policy advisor Chris Wright.

But Cathcart said he opposed the resolution itself, believing the council should not weigh in on a decision that ultimately rests with the voters. “I don’t think we should put our thumb on the scale … let the voters decide,” he said.

Cathcart did encourage the local news media to report on the ballot measure, saying it has “some really important pieces to it.”

Fellow Councilmember Zack Zappone agreed on the importance of the measure’s provisions to enlarge the commission with more diverse perspectives while balancing populations and representation within council districts. But Zappone, who with Cathcart co-wrote the statement published in the election voters guide, supported the resolution, saying it offered an opportunity to further educate the public.

Councilmember Paul Dillon agreed.

“I think it strengthens the redistricting process,” said Dillon, adding, “It’s not the sexiest topic, but it affects all of us.”

Also voting in favor of the resolution were Councilmembers Jonathan Bingle, Kitty Klitzke, Lili Navarrete, and President Betsy Wilkerson, who is elected citywide.

The recent redistricting process follows a legal dispute in which a Spokane County Superior Court judge recommended that the council rewrite the city’s charter provisions due to “ambiguous language” in favor of a process that “removes all questions of self-interest or partisanship.”

County elections officials mailed out ballots last month to affected voters. To be counted, ballots must be postmarked or returned to collection sites by 8 p.m. on election day.

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