Governor signs changes to Spokane County commissioner elections

Gov. Inslee signs Substitute House Bill No. 2887 accompanied by Reps. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) and Jeff Holy (R-Cheney)

OLYMPIA – Governor Jay Inslee signed the Responsible Representation Act into law today, a bipartisan bill changing the way large counties elect their county commissioners. House Bill 2887, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, directs counties with populations over 400,000 to change to a district-based county commission structure beginning in 2022.

“For larger counties like Spokane, moving to five commissioners ensures citizens get a more responsive government that matches growing populations,” said Riccelli (D-Spokane). “District representation gives citizens a more direct voice in government. Community members know specifically who to contact to express their opinions and who to hold accountable.”

Spokane County is home to roughly 450,000 residents. With three commissioners, that’s a commissioner-to-citizen ratio of 1-to-150,000. Pierce County, which has 700,000 residents, has a ratio closer to one commissioner for every 100,000 residents. ­­­By comparison, legislative districts, which have roughly 150,000 residents and are represented by one senator and two representatives, have a ratio of roughly 1-to-50,000.

Rep. Jeff Holy, who co-sponsored House Bill 2887, says the bill will help the county sidestep potential legal challenges like Montes v. City of Yakima, which questioned the city of Yakima’s election system.

“We brought this legislation forward in hopes of preempting the court from inserting itself in this process, as occurred in Yakima,” said Holy (R-Cheney). “This bill will allow for philosophical and political diversity, and is in the best interest of Spokane County.”

Rep. Mike Volz, another co-sponsor of the bill, said the foreseeable passage of the Voting Rights Act spurred lawmakers to propose a solution for Spokane County this session.

“This was a great opportunity for us to reach across the aisle and help the county prevent an inevitable lawsuit,” said Volz (R-Spokane). “It’s only a matter of time before the Voting Rights Act passes and is signed into law, so we need to be proactive. We don’t want to get into a situation where the court is determining district boundaries, and the county is left footing hefty attorney fees.”

Rep. Timm Ormsby, a third co-sponsor, said a district-based commissioner system makes sense for the growing and diversifying county.

“We’re a growing county with a diverse population,” said Ormsby (D-Spokane). “Anyone who can read a map and count to five would find this bill is long overdue. It’s a way to make sure every vote counts, and it brings county government closer to the citizens.”

Other Spokane-area representatives who co-sponsored HB 2887 were Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) and Bob McCaslin (R-Spokane Valley).