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Voters have city leaders on notice: No business as usual

Going forward, a breakdown of the 2013 election results carries lessons that city politicians can ignore only at great peril.

Written by Dick Morrill with assistance from Benjamin Anderstone

Although they’re normally a sedate affair, off-year elections occasionally prove noteworthy on substance. The 2013 election was such a year: for what it was lacking in turnout, it made up in electoral significance that will help shape the city's politics for years to come.

To recall: Seattle voters introduced districted City Council elections, ejected an incumbent mayor and elected a self-avowed socialist to the Council over a long-term incumbent. These results were seen — accurately — as a small revolt against “business as usual.” But what does this really mean?

We examined the geographical pattern of votes in 2013, to uncover how different areas of Seattle, and different groups of its citizens, voted. To accomplish this, we examined election results at two different levels — precincts (see this previous article), and – here – districts.  

How did Seattle vote? A look by districts

We begin with a table profiling the districts by demographic characteristics and their voting in the 2013 election (Table 1). District 1 includes West Seattle and South Park; District 2, Southeast Seattle; District 3, Capitol Hill-Montlake-Central Area; District 4 University District-Wallingford; District 5 Northgate-Broadview-Haller Lake-Lake City; District 6 Ballard-Fremont-Green Lake; District 7 Queen Anne-Magnolia-Downtown. (For a map of the districts, click here.)

The strongest support for district elections of council members was not from areas farthest from Downtown, which are often pitched as marginalized in City politics, but rather from two highly urban districts, the 3rd (Capitol Hill-South Lake Union) and 6 (Ballard-Greenlake). These districts were the best results for Kshama Sawant, same-sex marriage, and other progressive issues. The smallest victory for districted elections (still a healthy 62.5%) was in the 7th covering Queen Anne and Magnolia. The 7th also gave Ed Murray and Richard Conlin their best showings.  There isn’t a clear demographic reason for this showing; it may relate to the 7th's greater share of affluent professionals filling those downtown offices and banks.  At least in the case of districted elections, though, these distinctions are marginal: Districting was very popular throughout the City.

There were some surprises in Mayor-elect Ed Murray’s win. The strongest support for Murray was not from the 3rd or 4th (University District-Wallingford), the districts containing much of the 43rd Legislative District, which Murray long represented in the Legislature. Rather, they were from the Magnolia-Queen Anne’s 7 and the 1st, which covers West Seattle. Murray struggled most in the 2nd (Southeast Seattle), which is Seattle’s only majority-minority district, and its least affluent, as well as the 6th, McGinn’s home turf and home to North Seattle’s most progressive neighborhoods.

The vote for Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant is fascinating, as well. The 7th is again the establishment outlier with strong support for incumbent Conlin, along with the West Seattle-based 1st; in north Seattle, 4th and 5th split. The 3rd, home for both Conlin (of Madrona) and Sawant (of Capitol Hill), had the strongest showing for Sawant, again followed by the progressive 6th, despite the district’s affluence and high education. By contrast, the fairly modest vote for Sawant in the 4th, home of UW, is a little surprising.

The vote for Mike O’Brien looks remarkably like a standard liberal/conservative race in Seattle, with strong support from the “leftish” 3 and 6, and lowest support from the 1st and 7th. The fact that O’Brien is from the 6th may help explain why he did better to the north than in the traditionally Democratic 2nd. Alternatively, this may suggest that O’Brien did best with high-income, high-education progressives – perhaps a great example of his own politics and demographics?

Support for Proposition 1 (public campaign finance) had the same relative pattern as support for districts, but at a lower level. Only four districts showed Prop. 1 majority support — 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th. The measure was unable to gain a majority elsewhere, consistently underperforming districted elections, Mike O’Brien, and other progressive-correlated causes. Prop. 1's failure may be an indicator that eternally cautious Seattleites want reform, but want confidence in the process.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Feb 3, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the data and analysis.

As in 2009 McGinn attracted the more liberal/progressive areas (map looks very similar to 2013 v Mallahan). I believe McGinn lost because he insulted his core too many times. He certainly did me.

louploup

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 7:13 a.m. Inappropriate

1 of 2

These results [of the 2013 general election] were seen — accurately — as a small revolt against “business as usual.”

Well, yes . . . people here were able to control who the legislators setting legal policies for the city would be (for example, tossing Conlin and putting Sawant on to the council). The authors also are correct that using their retained legislative powers people here also set a new structural policy for future elections of local legislators. We'll be able to vote people on and off the council by district instead of at-large.

People here could do those things because the city has a constitutional structure. People can exert power over Seattle's legal policies and its policy-makers via political means and participation.

In sharp contrast, Sound Transit does not have a constitutional structure. That new, unprecedented form of municipality exists despite a constitutional limit that is supposed to guarantee Americans the kinds of political powers they wielded over Seattle's government last year.

Seattle is a representative democracy. Sound Transit is an oligarchy. Fifteen of the eighteen members of that “regional transit authority” board are political appointees. People here have no control whatsoever over the policies its appointive board sets OR who sets those local laws. We can not elect smarter, more frugal, or more ethical individuals on to that board.

Don't like “business as usual” at Sound Transit? Tough nuts. You can't change things via political means as we did with Seattle's government.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 7:14 a.m. Inappropriate


2 of 2

Any lawyers or judges read Crosscut? I'll set out a legal proposition: Sound Transit is an unconstitutional oligarchy. Somebody should try arguing the other side of that issue.

Here's the thing – the kind of governance structure the state legislature created for that municipality, coupled with the broad powers its enabling legislation delegated to it, violates the 14th Amendment. All anyone has to do to verify I'm correct is glance at the relevant legal standard, examine the relevant facts, and it becomes obvious the relevant legal standard wasn't met by our state's legislators in 1992.

The relevant legal standard when it comes to ascertaining whether or not an appointive-board public entity’s structure complies with what the 14th Amendment requires is supplied by a 1967 US Supreme Court opinion known as _Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education_. You can read it here:

http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/387/105/case.html

That longstanding authority addresses how appointive-board entities only may be delegated narrow powers, powers that merely allow them to effectuate legal policies established by representative legislative bodies superior to them.

The relevant 14th Amendment legal standard from that opinion is the one courts would use to ascertain whether or not a state’s legislature delegated excessive governmental powers and functions to a municipality’s appointive board. It involves comparing the powers delegated to the subject local entity to the handful of powers Michigan’s legislature had delegated to its county school boards by the mid-1960’s.

The _Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education_ opinion explains that Michigan’s legislature stayed within the limits the 14th Amendment imposes on it and all other state legislatures. The Court’s analysis of that issue proceeds from the following premise:

“We find no constitutional reason why state or local officers of the nonlegislative character involved here may not be chosen by the governor, by the legislature, or by some other appointive means, rather than by an election.”

Michigan’s legislature only had delegated narrow powers to its county school boards. Those boards only could administer certain legal policies that had been established at the state level by a directly-elected body. That is why those boardmembers were “of the non-legislative character”. In the terminology used by the US Supreme Court, those powers only allowed that public entity to perform "essentially administrative functions", so it was not required to have a directly-elected board.

In contrast, Sound Transit's board was empowered by our state's legislature to set a wide range of governmental policies that affect millions of people and have significant, permanent financial and transportation impacts. The powers and functions delegated to it were not merely administrative, which means that municipal board must be directly elected.

Now, who wants to argue Sound Transit has a constitutional structure, one that complies with what the Fourteenth Amendment demands in terms of voters' rights to control by political means the legislators who set policies for municipalities?

crossrip

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

So you don't like Sound Transit?

ColinS

Posted Tue, Feb 4, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Oversight of the Sound Transit board and management is nil. The cost is too great, and taxpayers have zero input.

The answer is 'no', not at all. Rebuild the management structure, then the answer may change.

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