Seattle City Council considers changes to local election cycle

Sep 14, 2023, 7:36 AM | Updated: 7:41 am

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A Seattle City Council briefing in early 2020. (Photo courtesy of Seattle City Council/Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of Seattle City Council/Flickr)

Coming up in the Thursday Seattle City Council meeting, a committee is talking about a proposal that will stagger the elections of council members in the future.

Currently, seven out of the nine city council seats are up for election every four years. This is the case in 2023, where Tammy Morales (District 2), Dan Strauss (District 6) and Andrew Lewis (District 7) are running for reelection in their seats, while Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5 are all open, as their incumbents decline to seek reelection.

More on Seattle city council: Seattle City Council committee approves resolution to ‘Lid I-5’

The proposal will reorganize the system so that a more even amount of members are elected during odd and even years.

The hope of the resolution is that by decreasing the number of elections for the city council, the “possibility of significant turnover” in one election cycle will be reduced.

According to the resolution, “staggering the sequencing of Council elections voters will have the opportunity to support the election of a more representative selection of members each election cycle, allowing for more consistent elections and greater opportunity to make voters voices heard more swiftly and consistently.”

Council terms are for four years, but in order to realign the election cycles, some districts would have two-year terms as the adjustment takes place.

According to the proposal:

  • Districts 2, 4, 6 and 9 (the at-large seat) would have their terms reduced to two years for one term only, starting in 2026 for seat 9 and 2028 for the other three seats. After that, all seats would revert back to their normal four-year term.
  • That would put all even council seats on the ballot in 2029 and 2033 and all odd-numbered seats in 2027, 2031 and 2035.

The resolution also includes authorization to adopt a statewide initiative to require all elections to be held during even years, should it get adopted next spring. Those advocating for the change argue that this will increase voter turnout, which will, in turn, increase the diversity of voices reflected in these local elections.

More local voting news: King County Council votes to move elections to even years

According to the City Council, even-year elections generally have much higher turnouts than odd-year elections because of the presence of federal races on the ballot. For example, in 2022, 70.3% of Seattle’s registered voters voted compared to 55.3% voting in 2021.

The Finance and Housing Committee is set to vote on the resolution on Thursday, after which it will be referred to the whole City Council. If it passes the City Council, it will be placed on the general election ballot in November 2024.

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