OLYMPIA – Spokane County voters would elect five county commissioners in districts drawn by a special panel under a bill introduced this week in the Washington Legislature.
The proposal also would end the system of commission candidates running in the district for a primary but in the entire county in the general election. Under the bill sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, candidates would run solely in their districts in both elections.
Riccelli said his bill attempts to address concerns he heard from voters last fall, when a proposal to expand the board of commissioners to five members failed at the polls. State law allows such an expansion, but leaves the drawing of commission boundaries to the three-member board. Some voters told him they objected to the board drawing its own boundary lines.
“People like things like this to be bipartisan,” he said.
The proposal calls for a five-member redistricting board. Each major political party would appoint two members; those four would decide on a fifth member who would serve as the chairman. The board would select a redistricting manager to develop the first draft of boundaries for the five districts, and the board, with at least four votes, could make changes to that draft.
Members of the redistricting board could not be elected officials, party officials or registered lobbyists. They couldn’t campaign for office or contribute to a candidate or a campaign while serving on the board.
If the bill were to become law this session, the redistricting commission would be set up in January 2017, and all five commissioner seats would be up for election in 2018. Two would serve for two years and three for four; after that first round, all commissioners would be elected to four-year terms. It would be mandatory for any county with more than 300,000 people that doesn’t have a charter – Spokane is the only county that fits that description – but optional for any other county.
It also addresses a potential problem posed by candidates running in a district for a primary but in the the entire county in the general election. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late last year that a similar system in Arizona is unconstitutional because because some general election voters are prohibited from making a choice in the primary.
Riccelli said he believes that ruling will eventually affect Washington, but his main focus is providing a chance for Spokane County to increase the size of its board of commissioners. He has no plans at this point to run for one of the commissioner positions, he added.
“It has nothing to do with any political plans, it’s just good government,” the two-term legislator said.
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