Into the Great Unknown: Seattle Moves to District-Based City Council

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By Stephan Yhann

In American politics, it’s hard to come by big change. The kind of change that rewrites the rules of the game.

Last November, Seattle took that challenge.

In the 2013 general election, Seattleites made history by electing the city’s first gay mayor and a socialist city councilmember. They also passed Charter Amendment 19, bringing an end to a century-long political era.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien, taking the oath of office from his two sons in January 2014. Next November, O'Brien and his fellow counterparts will have choose between seeking reelection in their district or for one of two city-wide seats.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, taking the oath of office from his two sons in January 2014. Next November, O’Brien and his counterparts will have choose between seeking reelection in their district or for one of two city-wide seats.

While Charter Amendment 19 didn’t receive as much attention as last year’s mayoral and city council races, it has the biggest potential to alter the political landscape of the city. The measure — which passed a by 2-1 margin — altered the way that the city elects its councilmembers and will take effect for the 2015 elections.

Since 1910, Seattleites have elected their council members the same way they elect their mayor: city-wide. Starting in the 2015 elections, seven members will be elected by their own district and two members will be elected by voters at large. To implement the system, every position on the council will be up for election in 2015, setting up a grueling campaign schedule for some members who just won reelection city-wide in November.

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