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Charter Amendment 1 - 2008
Voters deserve chance to reconsider voting process
BARBARA BRENNER / FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD, Dec, 10, 2007
Next November voters will decide if they want to return to electing all County Council members in the general election. The primary election would remain the same, requiring the top two primary candidates from their respective districts to be forwarded to the general election. The districts would still be repre-sented. Why should voters reconsider general election district-only voting they approved two years ago? Unintended consequences happened because of district-only voting. Voters will determine if these unintended consequences rise to a level of necessary change.
What are these unintended consequences? District-only voting reduced the need/desire of the council majority to listen to all residents. Every council decision is by council majority but voters can no longer vote for the majority, causing some council members to tune them out. There is a new joke among some council members - "I don’t care, it’s not in my district." I was told, “Butt out Brenner, it’s not in your district” regarding an issue affecting all residents but not in my geographic district. Voters who supported district-only voting two years ago in order to have more representation are actually losing more council attention and support since it passed.
Opponents’ claim the council is overturning the voters’ will. The council isn’t overturning anything. The voters will decide based on this new information.
Opponents say district-only voting is important so the Bellingham liberal majority doesn’t control the county. But all voters, including Bellingham voted two years ago. If opponents were correct about what their district-only measure would do and if they were correct about Bellingham, why did it pass?
Opponents claim the ballot proposal violates the US Constitution and the Voter Rights Act. According to constitutional and civil rights attorneys it does not. Federal laws touted by opponents deal with protecting racial and ethnic minorities. Until two years ago this ballot proposal was the law for over twenty years.
Opponents claim the council didn’t let the district-only voting scheme run for a voting cycle before bringing it back to voters for reconsideration. But we just did have a voting cycle using district-only voting.
The lone council member who supports district-only voting said he probably wouldn’t have won without it in the last election. But he did win twice before in county-wide general elections. Council members have to work harder in county-wide elections, but maybe that’s a good thing. We now have a local voters’ pamphlet to give voters information regarding all candidates. It saves candidates money and ensures a more informed electorate.
The local voters’ pamphlet, which didn’t exist two years ago, will guarantee voters have pros and cons of this proposed charter amendment ballot measure. There were many charter amendment ballot meas-ures two years ago, including the district-only one that eliminated the voters’ rights to elect the council majority. There was no local voters’ pamphlet nor comprehensive debate on any of them. The council considered a measure that passed which changed the county budgeting process from annual to biannual. It sounded great. I supported it. Turns out the council and the public now have less opportunity to scrutinize the budget. I don’t support it any more. I will work to change it. New information can change voters’ minds.
The County Council is the most local legislative body for all county residents, inside and outside of cities, regarding many critical issues including public health. We are only seven members with no more than four running at any one time. Most council decisions affect all Whatcom County residents. District-only voting promotes the council majority ignoring many voters’ concerns.
Check out congress sometime-many federal legislators care only about earmarks (pork barrel) for their own districts. It’s gridlock! Most federal legislators have e-mail blockers that only accept e-mail from their own districts. But congress and the state legislature are huge. It would be impractical for us to vote for all of them. Congress and state government aren’t local. Whatcom County is very local!
No democratic voting process can substitute for knowing the hearts of candidates. Some processes just may have less unintended consequences than others. Whether you decide for or against this ballot proposal, vote it up or down on its merits only.
Barbara Brenner is a Whatcom County Councilwoman. She was re-elected this year from District 3.