City may consider district-based voting

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Francisco Guerrero

District-based voting during a primary election is nothing new, but the idea of district voting in a general election may be up for consideration.

Councilman Francisco Guerrero, who currently is the only Hispanic member of City Council, thinks it could be a good idea.

Guerrero said he believes the majority of those who regularly vote are from specific areas of town, not always representative of the districts from which council members are elected.

If half the town votes for someone who is not from their district, then the election process is skewed, Guerrero said.

“There is a small segment of voters determining how city government is operated,” he said.

In 2008 the city was divided into four districts in response to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation due to lack of Hispanic representation. The city was urged to move to a district system to keep it in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

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Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci

Mayor Jim Restucci said, “We couldn’t find seven districts the justice department wanted.”

The city instead went with four council seats representing by voting districts and three at-large seats.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson last week issued an opinion after Pasco and several other cities asked for an opinion regarding voting by district in a general election.

“Code cities in Washington that believe they may be in violation of the (Voting Rights Act) face difficult decisions and potential legal risk regardless of what course they choose,” Ferguson’s office said.

Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins testified last week before the State Senate, supporting a bill that would let cities hold council elections by district.

His city is one of several seeking to keep votes for district seats within the boundaries of each district, rather than allow a city-wide vote during the general election.

Restucci said he isn’t certain if a district vote, rather than city-wide vote would be the right thing for Sunnyside.

“I don’t see a need to change the current election process,” he said.

City Manager Don Day could not be reached for comment on what steps would be required of city staff if council changes to district voting.

Currently the top two candidates chosen by voters in a specific district during the primary election move on to the general election. At that time voters city-wide select the candidate to serve on council.

Restucci said there are approximately 4,000 registered voters in the city, of which between 45 and 50 percent regularly vote.

Sunnyside is a non-charter city. “It’s an optional code city — adopted in 1948 — getting most of its laws from the state. It’s governed and run according to RCW 35A.13,” Restucci said.

Therefore, it qualifies as a non-charter city and could potentially hold its general elections for City Council positions by district.

“The idea might be something to discuss and review to decide what’s best for the community,” Guerrero said.

Restucci said he doesn’t believe it will make a difference because “… if you are going off Hispanic surnames, every part of Sunnyside is a majority Hispanic.”



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