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Published on Friday, January 5, 2018

Hearings scheduled for Voting Rights Act bills that could impact how city councilmembers get elected

Both the House and Senate will hear bills this week that could change whether your city council elections take place citywide or are divided by voting district. They would also allow impacted voters to bring a case in state courts to challenge the system of elections, similar to the federal Voting Rights Act.

HB 1800, sponsored by Rep. Gregerson (D-SeaTac), has a hearing scheduled at 8 am on Tuesday, January 9 in the House State Government, Elections & IT Committee.

SB 6002, sponsored by Sen. Saldaña (D-Seattle), has a hearing at 8 am on Wednesday, January 10 in the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee.

HB 1800 carries over from last session and impacts cities in the following ways:

  • The bill applies to local elections in cities and towns above 1,000 population.
  • The legislation amends state statute to expressly allow non-charter code cities, second class cities and towns to voluntarily adopt district-based election systems (or other types of voting methods) in general elections.
  • The bill would allow a voter to notify a local government that they intend to challenge their jurisdiction’s election process. It requires that the voter include a reasonable analysis of the data that indicates an alleged violation and a proposed remedy.
  • The local jurisdiction would have 180 days to implement a remedy; and if no action is taken, the voter may file a lawsuit alleging a violation under the Act.
  • If a lawsuit is filed and the court determines a violation has occurred, the court may order the jurisdiction to adopt a district-based election process, may order redistricting, or another remedy.
  • Depending on the timing of adoption of districts or other changes, special elections would be triggered for council positions with more than two years remaining.
  • If a local jurisdiction adopts a court-ordered remedy no legal action may be brought against the jurisdiction for four years.

SB 6002 was prefiled in December and mirrors many of the provisions in HB 1800. However, SB 6002 includes the following changes:

  • The bill includes additional notice provisions for local governments that choose to proactively change their election system;
  • It requires that the voter providing notice to the jurisdiction include a specific description of the alleged violation and a proposed remedy;
  • It extends the implementation date.

AWC continues to take a neutral position on this legislation, acknowledging that cities have varying opinions about this issue and the proposals. We continue to actively engage with legislators and stakeholders to provide our ideas and perspectives. We welcome hearing from our members on this issue. Please contact Victoria Lincoln.

Following the hearings, we anticipate quick action to pass the bills out of committee.

Categories: General government