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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ballot measure meant to prevent gerrymandering in Spokane passing overwhelmingly

Voters appear to overwhelmingly believe the Spokane City Council should lose some of its authority over the redistricting process.  (Christopher Anderson)

Voters overwhelmingly approved a Spokane ballot measure that will limit the ability for the Spokane City Council to draw its own districts following accusations of gerrymandering in 2022.

The measure, which needed a simple majority to pass, was one of the most successful in the county as of Wednesday night, bringing in 67% of the vote after initial results.

“I think it’s great that the public saw through some of the technical pieces there and saw that this was a good reform,” said Councilman Michael Cathcart, who had championed the proposed change. “We may not see it in action for several years, but it should result in a much better process once we engage in redistricting next time.”

The measure will amend the city charter, which acts as a sort of local constitution.

Every decade, Spokane redraws the boundaries of its three City Council districts to ensure each has roughly the same number of residents based on the recently released data from the U.S. Census. The residents within those districts can then elect two council members to represent their district on the City Council, in addition to a mayor and city council president who are elected citywide.

Measure 2 will significantly dilute the power of the City Council over that redistricting process, with the hopes of preventing a repeat of the contentious reshaping of district boundaries in 2022. It was co-sponsored by Councilman Zack Zappone, who was accused of partisan gerrymandering, though a Spokane County Superior Court judge eventually ruled that he had not violated the law.

In 2022, the city tasked three volunteers, appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, with drawing possible new maps. Zappone served as a nonvoting advisory member of that committee.

The volunteers recommended a map to the City Council after a prolonged process, only for the council to vote instead to adopt a map drawn by Zappone and which was believed to benefit liberal candidates for city office, including for Zappone’s re-election prospects.

Zappone has consistently stated in public that his only motivation in drafting the map the way he did was to reunify neighborhoods that had been split between council districts.

A judge in April found that Zappone and the City Council had not engaged in gerrymandering, but added that the councilman had appeared to violate the spirit of the law.

Measure 2 has three key provisions meant to prevent future perceptions of partisan interference.

First, it expands the redistricting commission from three members to seven. The mayor would appoint three members, one from each existing district, and the City Council would appoint three. Those six members would vote to appoint a nonvoting seventh member who would act as chairperson.

The second key provision would bar the City Council from replacing the redistricting commission’s recommended map with one drafted by the council, as occurred in 2022. If a council majority votes against the recommendation, the commission would have to draft a new map. If no map could be agreed upon, the decision would be made by a municipal court judge.

Finally, Cathcart’s charter amendment would create a process for local residents to request a redistricting process in the middle of the decennial. Redistricting typically occurs every 10 years after the census is published. While the City Council can redistrict in the middle of this 10-year cycle, it has never exercised that power. The threshold for a citizen petition to call for a mid-decennial redistricting would be 10% of recent voters.

Preventing the breakup of neighborhoods during future redistricting efforts would also be codified as a priority for the commission under the modified ballot measure.