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Duped by district 

by Robert Herold

While our first district election of city council members resulted in status quo on the council, the distribution of voting turnout proved to be both notable and predictable. Consider:

The District Two (the South Hill and Browne's Addition) election was settled by 16,000 votes.

The District Three (West Central, Shadle, Indian Trail) election was settled by 16,000 votes.

In stark contrast, the District One (Logan, Lidgerwood) election drew only 9,000 voters.

The results were notable and predictable, but the sheer magnitude of the gap -- a 7,000-vote lag between districts of the same population -- was truly shocking.

Should this vote distribution pattern regularly result, it follows that two-thirds of the city (Districts Two and Three) will become politically marginalized. Do the simple arithmetic: If your district gets one vote on the council for every 16,000 votes cast, and my district gets one vote on the council for every 9,000 votes cast, then my vote is worth more than yours. I'm over-represented and you are under-represented, by an almost two-to-one ratio.

We knew this would happen; in fact, we warned the council when it adopted these districts that it would happen. But they seemed bent on marginalizing two-thirds of the city out of some kind of payback impulse for what they saw as too many years of the city being dominated by the South Hill. (The fact is, voters, not non-voters, have always dictated the direction of city politics, regardless of where they live.)

All analysis at the time this decision was made showed exactly what would happen if the council adopted a district scheme that tossed the northeast section of the city into a single district.

I say "all analysis" because it just so happens that West Central Community Center Director Don Higgins and I did the only analysis ever brought before the council for consideration. Not only was it summarily ignored, it failed even to spur the council majority to ask an analytical question of anyone. Instead, they acted in accordance with prejudicial ideology buttressed only by second-hand impressions. They didn't want to hear what they didn't want to hear, and no fancy statistics or facts were going to change their minds.

It was quite possible to design a district plan with districts equal in population but also relatively equal in both voter registration and turnout. It was also possible to design districts that were pluralistic; districts that incorporated a healthy mix of socio-economic groupings. We also urged the council to adopt a model that effectively integrated the downtown with neighborhoods, both to the north and the south, rather a model that would leave downtown as the last stop on the bus line.

Instead, in what can only be termed a rabid outburst of anti-intellectualism, the council majority, led by Steve Eugster and followed by Mayor John Talbott, Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers and Councilman Steve Corker, headed straight to their very own petty version of "power to the people" -- and fairness be damned.

Indirectly, we can only conclude that they deliberately set out to penalize good citizenship. Most people, I believe, would agree that voting is an act of the good citizen. But the majority agreed at the time that they couldn't expect the voters in the poorer sections of town to vote, now could they?

Well, yes, we can and we should. The council majority argued that we ought not to expect the truly alienated even to be interested. In a twist that's best described as classic Twilight Zone, only-in-Spokane politics, we reward these people for staying away from the polls on election day.

The council majority at the time refused even to debate this matter on principle. They refused to consider any and all arguments that did not embrace their thinly veiled "power to the people" model. And now we see the result.

All the council needed to do was to make certain that it designed districts around voter turnout, not merely population. Then they could have ensured that the districts would also cut across class lines. Alas, this was not to be the result, and now we have districts that are not only unfairly delineated but class-bound to boot.

It needs be said that Eugster, from the beginning, embraced the role of the ideologue. He was bound and determined to deny the South Hill more than two seats on the council, and the only way to make certain was to draw the boundaries that the majority, in the end, did.

The other three members of the council majority, who no doubt were sympathetic with the "power to the people" ideology, sought refuge behind their announced perception of public opinion. "The people in the northeast want the district boundary drawn this way." To this I can only respond: I bet they did!

In any case, what the four-member majority produced will glide along right up until, in the not-so-distant future, taxpaying folks in the marginalized two-thirds of the city wake up. One day, they will realize that city policies affecting them directly are being concocted by a dramatically over-represented membership from one-third of the city. When this happens, my guess is there will be some kind of revolt. In the meantime, we will have to live under a system that coddles those who choose not to vote. We know you're disenfranchised, we're sorry, so here, have equal representation without going to the polls. Here's a news flash: the antidote to disenfranchisement is simple -- vote!

On election day, if you snooze you lose, regardless of your address or income bracket. And that's the way it should be. If our leaders can't draw district boundaries that presume even this small act of participation, then citizenship really is dead.

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