Don’t go backward:
The “findings” of the Charter Review Commission (CRC) are seriously flawed. In promoting their idea of going back to the old three-member at-large system we used to have, the CRC acknowledges that “one consequence, if uncured, could be the election of all three council members from the island with the largest population.” According to the CRC, the “cure” for this dilemma was RCW 36.32.020, which made it possible for San Juan County to be an exception and have unequal districts with residency requirements. RCW 36.32.020 and residency requirements from the old system do not address the acknowledged issue.
Upon a request for an opinion, the CRC ignored key elements of Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord’s response. In his April 19 2012 Memorandum, Gaylord stated while at-large systems do not “per-se” violate the one-person-one-vote requirements, “the actual operation of such a plan may provide the basis for a constitutional challenge.” Ignored by the CRC, in the various opinions presented by Gaylord’s research, are statements such as; “At-large voting schemes and multi-member districts tend to minimize the voting strength of any minority group within the district by allowing the majority to elect all the representatives of the district.” One cannot ignore the fact that our old three-district at-large system was an extreme case of district population disparity of a proportion rarely if ever seen in the United States.
In short, RCW 36.32.020, which is held up by the CRC as the ultimate document proving the CRC’s case, is like getting away with passing by the cop at 80 MPH and then believing 80 MPH is legal! A 1990 opinion by then State Attorney Kenneth Eikenberry refers to older cases including one from Alabama as the basis for stating that San Juan County’s old at-large system might be OK back then. Today, and according to other legal opinions which the CRC ignored, it is irresponsible to assume that returning to the old wildly unequal three districts would survive a new legal test. This is why our State Law is seated in the “Revised” Code of Washington (RCW).