Unequally-sized council districts upheld by Court of Appeals

In a  decision filed September 2, 2014, the Court of Appeals upheld the summary judgment dismissal of the case filed by six county residents arguing against the three residency districts approved by voters in 2012.

The three judges found "there is no evidence that the residency districts with unequal populations either dilutes the strength of an identifiable element of the voting population or otherwise results in discrimination."

 Michael Carlson, Jerrold R. Gonce, Jeffrey Bossier, Richard Peterson, Marc Forlenza, and Gregory Ayers filed suit December 4, 2012 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The Court of Appeals decision spells out the legal manuevering that took place before the case was heard and dismissed in San Juan Superior Court. The State Supreme Court then declined to hear the appeal and sent it to the Court of Appeals. 

The three Court of Appeals Judges - Ann Schindler, Stephen J. Dwyer and Michael S. Spearman - found many of the cases cited by the appellants not applicable. For example, the requirement that a ballot measure be limited to one subject applies only to state ballot measures.

Regarding the argument that Proposition 1 violated the state Constitution requiring: "All Elections shall be free and equal, and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage" the Court in its opinion stated:

The Washington Supreme Court has "historically interpreted article I, section 19 as prohibiting the complete denial of the right to vote to a group of affected citizens."  Because Proposition No. 1 does not deny the right to vote in council elections, article I, section 19 is not implicated.

The court document includes the background of the case.

In the 2012 general election, the voters of San Juan County approved Proposition No. 1. Proposition No. 1 amended the San Juan County Home Rule Charter to reduce the number of county council members from six to three members, each residing in one of three unequal size residency districts but nominated and elected by the voters in an at-large countywide election.

Carlson contends Proposition No. 1 and the statutes that allow residency districts with unequal populations violate equal protection; due process; and article I, section 12 and article I, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution. Carlson also claims the Proposition No. 1 ballot title violates article II, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution; and Proposition No. 1 did not comply with former San Juan County Home Rule Charter article 8, section 8.31(3) (2005).

The entire decision is available online.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

back to top