Supreme Court rules bill to expand number of Spokane County Commissioners to 5 is constitutional

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a law increasing the number of Spokane County Commissioners from three to five is constitutional.

The bipartisan Responsible Representation Act — which was sponsored by several local leaders including Representatives Marcus Riccelli, Timm Ormsby and Mike Volz — was signed into law in 2018.

SHB 2887 stated that counties with populations of more than 400,000 people move to a district-based county commission structure beginning in 2022. The Constitution states each county government begin with three commissioners.

Additionally, it required affected counties to fund a redistricting committee to create five districts — one for each commissioner — and hold individual district elections instead of countywide general elections.

Current commissioner Al French and former commissioner John Roskelley previously argued that requiring Spokane County to have five commissioners was a violation of the state Constitution. They claimed it violated articles that mandate the legislature to establish a uniform system of county government and require the legislature to provide for the election of county commissioners through general and uniform laws.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the bill was constitutional under both of the articles because it “sets forth a ‘uniform system’ such that any noncharter county that exceeds 400,000 people in population will be subjected to SHB 2887’s requirements.”

The court further added that “the legislature may classify counties by population for any purpose that does not violate other constitutional provision, and SHB 2887 is a general law that properly implements district-only elections for noncharter counties of a certain size.”

“This will set up a bi-partisan redistricting commission to draw the 5 districts and bring representation closer to the people,” said Rep. Riccelli. “It is past time to have a government that matches our growing population and growing needs. I am grateful for all the bi-partisan work that local legislators put in (Senators Baumgartner, Billig, Holy and Reps. Volz and Ormsby) to bring this to fruition and put our community first.”

“I am disappointed that the Washington State Supreme Court disagreed with us that this legislation is unconstitutional,” Commissioner French said. “Over the last two years, it has become clear that constituents throughout the county also believe that this legislation ignores the will of the people. This ruling opens the door for the legislature to establish random metrics that ignore the will of the people in individual counties and could circumvent protections provided to voters in the state constitution. It is a sad day for the people of Spokane County and the State of Washington.”

Read the court’s full decision here.