August 21, 2011 in City

Spin Control: Council president race in North Side voters’ hands

By The Spokesman-Review

The race for Spokane City Council president would appear to be a tossup, particularly in many north Spokane precincts where a clear favorite has yet to emerge.

No duh, you might say, considering that winner Dennis Hession got only slightly more than a third of the vote in a four-person field.

But Spin Control does not make such prognostications lightly. Instead, we employ the very best of computer science and data analysis to confirm what you may already suspect: that Spokane voters seem less sure of their selection for the person to run council meetings for the next four years than the person to run the city.

Hey, some days, running the council is a real chore, but the city pretty much runs itself.

Incumbent Mary Verner did better than the rest of the field in the top race almost everywhere in the city. The top two finishers for council president, Hession and Ben Stuckart, each had bases of strong support in south Spokane, where they won clear majorities in some precincts.

But north of Interstate 90, neither they nor third-place finisher Steve Corker claimed majorities in more than a handful of precincts.

Beyond that, there was a significant dropoff in voting between the mayor’s race and the council president race. Almost four times as many voters left the president’s race blank compared to the mayor’s race.

Maybe they didn’t like any of their choices. Maybe they didn’t know any of their choices. Maybe they didn’t know or care about the job. After all, everyone can hazard a guess at what the mayor should do. Not necessarily so with the council president job.

But the “I don’t know/care” numbers – technically known as undervotes – reached 10 percent of the voters in some precincts.

The bottom line is that November’s general election could go to the council president candidate who works hardest in north Spokane between Francis Avenue and the river and who gives the marginally motivated voters a reason to fill in the circle next to his name. The reward: The right to tell folks at the microphone during council meetings that their time is up, stop talking and sit down. Exercised right, it’s kind of like a superpower.

Not grading on the curve

Washington state got an F in initiatives last week.

Not that the state enrolled in Ballot Measures 101 or anything. We graduated with a degree in initiatives and referendums in 1914, when state residents added that power to the constitution.

But the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a Washington, D.C., group which bills itself as a place that “strengthens democracy by building a national progressive strategy for ballot issues,” annually grades states for the kinds of changes it thinks the states should make to “ensure the integrity of their initiative process.” It has looked at our laws and determined that we don’t rate. For the third year in a row.

Don’t be smirking over there, Idaho. You got an F, too.

In its 25-point test, Washington got graded down for not having 14 of the things the center thought a good state should have. Things like keeping folks from re-running the same initiative for at least three years or requiring notarized affidavits that all signatures are gathered within the law or banning companies for paying people based on the number of signatures they gather. They have some interesting and even debatable ideas, which could be why the Legislature has debated many of them, but never approved them.

Chances are good some Washington progressive groups will propose legislation along those lines again next year.

But those groups might want to think twice about citing Washington’s failing grade from the center as a reason to change state law. In grading all 24 states that have the initiative process, the center flunked half, gave out one B, one C, and the rest Ds. That’s not a curve, it’s a ski jump.

Most teachers who turned in a grade book like that would be answering questions about what was wrong with their methods, not with their class.

Seems like a more honest way to grade initiatives might be to give states that don’t allow them an F, and work up from there. Just sayin’.

Spin Control also appears online with daily items at blogs/spincontrol. You can find maps of the election results and a link to the report on states’ initiative laws there, too.

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