Sep 26, 2023 - Politics

Seattle considers holding fewer City Council races at once

Illustration of a long ballot being cut with a pair of scissors.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

If you think Seattle has too many City Council races going on this year, some city officials think you're right.

Driving the news: A Seattle City Council committee is considering a proposal to stagger the city's elections so that a maximum of five council seats would be up for election at the same time.

  • That would eventually eliminate city elections like this year's, when seven of nine council seats are on the November ballot.

Why it matters: City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who is proposing the change, said last week that having so many council seats up for election at once can create "disruptive turnover" in city leadership.

State of play: This year, four City Council members aren't seeking re-election, while Mosqueda is running for King County Council, making it likely that a majority of Seattle's council members will be new in 2024.

Details: Under the proposed changes, the city would finish transitioning to the new election system by 2031.

  • That year, four City Council seats would appear on the ballot, instead of the seven slated to be on the ballot under the current system.
  • Then, in 2033, the other five City Council positions will be up for election, along for the races for mayor and city attorney.
  • Voters would have to sign off on the proposed change to the city's charter, which would appear on the ballot no sooner than November 2024.

What they're saying: Estevan Muñoz-Howard, who worked on the 2015 campaign to create democracy vouchers in Seattle, said the city's current system allows a level of turnover that can "make it difficult to maintain any sort of consistency in the trajectory of our city."

  • Among other potential problems, "multi-year projects would be more likely to stall midway through implementation" and "critical programs would be more likely to go unfunded," Muñoz-Howard wrote in an email shared with members of the council.

The other side: Others said they don't see the need to change an election system that Seattle voters approved 10 years ago, when residents voted to elect most council seats by geographic districts instead of by citywide vote.

  • Eugene Wasserman, who helped lead the 2013 district-based elections campaign, wrote in an email to council members that the current system "has been very successful" and "controversy-free."

What's next: City Council members are unlikely to take up the proposed election changes for several months, as they are now turning their attention to budget discussions, Mosqueda told Axios.

  • If the council doesn't move ahead with the proposal by the end of the year, Mosqueda said she hopes the next group of City Council members picks it up again in 2024.

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