Spin Control: Spokane’s three council districts aren’t equal in terms of voters or votes | #itsecurity | #infosec

If you voted in northeast Spokane’s City Council race in this year’s general election, your ballot was as much as two times more powerful as a ballot cast in the other two districts.

While this doesn’t fly in the face of the concept of “one person, one vote” – an equal protection reference based on a district’s population – it is something for people to consider when redrawing the council boundaries in the coming year.

In 1964, the court ruled that legislative districts had to be based on population, rather than geography, as was common in some states at the time. For example, Washington couldn’t have a state senate with one member from each of its 39 counties as a counter weight to the house of representatives that was divided based on population.

Legislators represent people, not acres or trees, Chief Justice Earl Warren said in the 1964 landmark ruling. The principle has been applied to other types of local election districts like county commissions and city councils.

When Spokane switched from at-large to council district elections in 2000, it was divided into northeast, northwest and south districts, essentially using Division Street and a combination of Interstate 90 to the east and the Spokane River to the west as the boundaries. At the time, they were described as “of nearly equal population.”

They were also described as representing the traditional way of looking at Spokane.

More than two decades on, it may be time to consider something else we know about Spokane: The northeast district has for years had fewer registered voters and lower turnout among those who do register.

This was obvious in this year’s election, where Jonathan Bingle got about 5,600 votes and Naghmana Sherazi about 4,300 votes in the race for the Northeast District’s open council seat.

In the northwest district, more than twice as many were cast in the race between Zack Zappone and Mike Lish for another open seat.

In the south, about 16,000 votes were cast for council, where Betsy Wilkerson was running unopposed save for write-ins.

Because precinct boundaries are based on factors like geographic barriers, neighborhoods and street lines, registration in Spokane city precincts varies widely, from a low of 143 voters to a high of 1,531. Precincts with heavy, light and moderate registration numbers are spread throughout the city, a computer analysis of the registration figures shows.

But overall, the northeast district has about a third fewer registered voters than either the south or northwest districts.

As any campaign operative will tell you, it’s not the number of people you register, it’s the number you convince to vote that matters in an election. With only a few exceptions, the precincts with the fewest ballots cast, and those with the lowest turnout percentages, were overwhelmingly in the northeast, the computer analysis shows.

Average turnout for the northeast district in the Nov. 2 election was just over one in four, or 26.6%, compared to 39.4% for the south district and 40.4% for the northwest district.

The disparities aren’t new. They’ve existed since the boundaries were drawn, but the gaps have become a bit wider over time.

There are several demographic reasons for the lower registration and turnout numbers. The Northeast District has more rental units than the other two districts; renters tend to be more transitory and less likely than homeowners to register and vote. It has areas with lower median income than many other parts of the city. It’s also home to Gonzaga University and Spokane Community College, and the students who live near those institutions are less likely to register and vote in city elections.

For people who live in Hillyard, Nevada-Lidgerwood, Logan or the other neighborhoods in that district and have for years felt they get less attention – if they get any at all – from City Hall, the fact that they can elect their councilmembers with half the votes as people on the South Hill or in Indian Trail may seem like payback, or at least a balancing of the scales.

It also means, however, that groups who want a sympathetic ear on the council may have a better chance of electing their preferred candidate in a low-registration, low-turnout district by concentrating on key precincts or voter blocs.

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