Will this provide for better rural representation? Yes. This amendment, if passed, will be fairer to rural residents than the current system. With 3 Districts, each District includes part of Bellingham. With 5 districts, 3 of them will be separate and rural voters can be assured of rural representation. The rural districts will be the coastal district, the farmland district and the foothills and lakes district. Each district will have roughly 20% of the voting population. Bellingham, with 40% of the population, will have two districts.
Is 5 Fair and Equal Districts Amendment in conflict with the district-only proposal from the Charter Review Commission? No. This only amends the number of districts. The question of county-wide voting or district-only voting is a separate part of the charter and this amendment doesn’t seek to change voting. The 5 Fair and Equal Districts amendment would work under either voting system.
Is the County Council really overriding the Charter Review Commission? No. Only the voters get to decide how to amend our charter and only the County Council is able to place proposals on the ballot for the voters to decide. The County Council is following the State Constitution and our County Charter.
What have other Home Rule counties in Washington done? Other home rule counties with council systems of government have from five to nine districts. Our current three-district system is a relic of the old three-commissioner system we left behind in the 1970’s because it led to pork barrel politics. With more districts each community is more likely to have their own voice and distinct representation. With five districts, all communities can be better represented and heard equally.
Does this mean we change the number of County Councilmembers? No, there will still be seven. The ordinance states: “A charter amendment changing the present system of electing members of the county council from three districts with one at-large council member to a system of five districts in which five of the seven county council members represent her or his district plus two at-large council members.”
Can the County Council propose charter amendments to voters? Yes! Only the County Council can place charter amendments on the ballot, according to Article XI, Section 4 of the State Constitution. Councilmembers have heard from thousands of citizens who think our three-district system is outdated and should follow what other home rule counties have done – switch to more districts. After looking at Todd Donovan’s proposal for several months and hearing testimony, it is clear to many in the community that this would be more fair and would more closely follow state law.
What does the state require for redistricting?
RCW 29A.76.010 states:
- Each district shall be as compact as possible.
- Each district shall consist of geographically contiguous area.
- Population data may not be used for purposes of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party.
- To the extent feasible and if not inconsistent with the basic enabling legislation for the municipal corporation, county, or district, the district boundaries shall coincide with existing recognized natural boundaries and shall, to the extent possible, preserve existing communities of related and mutual interest.
The current three districts, under district only voting, are likely to be challenged in court and found out of compliance because each district contains part of Bellingham – dividing a community of interest and far from geographically contiguous. We think it’s better to move to fair and equal districts whether or not voters choose district-only voting.
Who decides where the five districts are? The rough 5 Fair and Equal District map was before the Charter Review Commission for months and it makes a lot of sense to many citizens. Take a look at it and see if you agree! While a redistricting committee will adjust the lines to make sure they’re equal, the districts themselves are described in the County Council ordinance: “BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED that the initial districts shall be as equal as possible and that District 1 shall contain Ferndale, Lummi Reservation, Lummi Island, Birch Bay, Blaine and Point Roberts; District 2 shall contain Lynden, Sumas, Everson, Nooksack and the surrounding farmland; District 3 shall contain Deming, Welcome, Kendall, Maple Falls, Acme, Sudden Valley, Lake Whatcom, Lake Samish and Chuckanut; District 4 shall be north Bellingham; District 5 shall be south Bellingham.” Basically, there’s a coastal district, a farmland district, a foothills and lakes district and then two in Bellingham – south and north.
How does the transition happen? Do we start over with the council elections? No, there will be an orderly transition from three to five where specific council seats transition to the new seats like this:
- Old seats: 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B
- New seats: District 1, District 2, District 3, District 4, District 5, At Large
Was your question answered? If not, please contact us. We’ll respond promptly and post your question on our page, to ensure that everyone can benefit from more information.