Conflict Flares Over Equity in Redistricting, Billionaire-Backed Election Reform Campaign Tops $500,000

1. Homeowners from Magnolia squared off against renters and advocates for BIPOC Seattle residents Saturday in a forum about city council redistricting that included a preview of an amended district map that would divide the peninsula at the crest of a hill that divides the area both geographically and demographically.

Redistricting has been particularly contentious in District 6 (northwest Seattle) and District 7 (Magnolia, Lower Queen Anne, and downtown). The latest map from the five-member Seattle Redistricting Commission moves all of Magnolia into northwest Seattle’s District 6, consolidating two areas with large, west-facing houses into a single district that excludes less-wealthy areas like Crown Hill and Fremont, which would be divided into three districts.

A group called Redistricting Justice for Seattle, which represents people of color, renters, and other historically marginalized Seattle residents, came up with a map that would preserve the current dividing line in Fremont and return southeast Magnolia to District 7, while keeping other areas, like the Central District and the Rainier Valley, whole. At Saturday’s forum, dozens of supporters of the RJS plan spoke up in favor of a similar proposal from redistricting commissioner Patience Malaba that would split the Magnolia peninsula along 28th Ave. West, consistent with the RJS proposal.

However, representatives from Magnolia businesses, along with several Magnolia residents, pushed back on the plan; one called RJS a “special interest group” that was interfering in the process, while another said she was concerned about the “prejudice” she heard from RJS advocates, many of whom were Black or brown, against Magnolia.

The woman who called RJS a special-interest group also accused them of just “looking at a map” and deciding to divide up a cohesive neighborhood. Actually, the eastern half of the peninsula has far more in common with the less wealthy, renter-heavy parts of District 7 than it does with the view homes on the west side of the 500-foot hill that actually divides the area.

According to data from the US Census Bureau, the three Census tracts that make up this area are overwhelmingly renters (58, 70, and 77 percent, respectively), racially diverse (between 28 and 39 percent people of color), and young (with a median age between 33 and 36.) In contrast, the west-facing, view-home half of the neighborhood is 90 percent homeowners, 81 percent white, and has a median age of 47—a population whose own special interests are powerfully served by splitting up renters and voters of color into multiple voting districts.

The redistricting commission will meet again at noon on Wednesday, October 12, at City Hall.

2. With less than a month to go before election day (November 8), the campaign to change Seattle’s election system to one where voters can select as many candidates as they like (approval voting) continues to far outpace the competing campaign for ranked-choice voting (a system in which voters rank candidates by preference) and for retaining the current top-two primary system. Seattle Approves, the campaign for approval voting, had raised nearly $500,000 by the end of September, while Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle had juts $52,000 and Seattle for Election Simplicity, the local business-backed group that wants to keep elections the same, had raised just under $45,000.

More than $200,000 of the funding for Seattle Approves came from the Center for Election Science, a tech billionaire-backed California think tank that’s pushing approval voting. Another $135,000 from Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Eighty-seven percent of the funding for Seattle Approves has come from outside the state of Washington (including Nassau, Bahamas resident Bankman-Fried), and just 2 percent of the campaign’s contributions come from donors who gave $700 or less.

In contrast, 79 percent of the funding for Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle so far has come from inside city limits, most of it from district 7, which includes downtown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne. Eight percent of contributions to the ranked-choice voting campaign were under $700.

Seattle for Election Simplicity’s funding consists entirely of larger donations, but those top out at $5,000—compared to Seattle Approves’ $211,000 and Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle’s $25,000. Most of the donors advocating for the status quo are, perhaps unsurprisingly, local, with 36 percent of the the group’s contributions coming from outside city limits.

16 thoughts on “Conflict Flares Over Equity in Redistricting, Billionaire-Backed Election Reform Campaign Tops $500,000”

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  2. If you want the same group of primary voters, not necessarily even a majority, to be able to put forward both candidates for a general election, approval voting is for you. Even our existing system is better at giving meaningfully different choices to general election voters than that.

    1. Meaningfully different choices are bad because it means the general election won’t be competitive. By definition if you put the best two candidates in the general, they will tend to be very similar.

      We saw this in St Louis. Four candidates ran for mayor, and the two progressives/women went to the general. Then they had a highly competitive and substantive contest and St Louis went on to elect their first black female mayor. Had you instead advanced the corporate machine Democrat or the Republican in order to “give voters meaningfully different choices”, then it would have been a pointless general election with something like a 20% margin of victory.

      By advancing the two progressive women, approval voting did a better job measuring the overall consensus view of the St Louis electorate. Ironically this was more fair to the conservative minority because they could at least use their votes to push for the slightly less progressive option. Which is much more useful than giving them a conservative candidate who has absolutely no hope of winning anyway.

  3. Both ranked-choice voting and approval voting are better than traditional plurality (winner-take-all) voting – assuming by “better” one means better reflecting the collective will of the electorate and giving voters more influence. Also neither voting reform is difficult to understand.

    Unlike approval voting, ranked-choice voting has a long well-documented track record. I’m not sure that track record shows – as some claim – much voter confusion. There may be arguments against RCV – mostly weak in my opinion. But too confusing?

  4. approval voting is getting more support from technologists, because it’s simpler and more accurate. technologists tend to prefer simple effective solutions rather than complex opaque ones. there’s nothing nefarious about it.

  5. RCV is complicated and less transparent; I am not surprised it’s not getting the same amount of support. I’m also a bit worried this battle of the voting systems will create animosity where none is needed. Seattle elections are sound, the rules are clear, and voters accept them without doubt, that’s not something many parts of the country enjoy.

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