Coal Money Used to Aid Review Committee on Crucial Voters Rights Decision
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Politics and Activism

Coal Money Used to Aid Review Committee on Crucial Voters Rights Decision

Pro-coal companies are funding this review in hopes that it will bring more conservative politicians into play

Coal Money Used to Aid Review Committee on Crucial Voters Rights Decision

Whatcom County, the most northern county in Washington State, is on the cusp of a huge political decision that could change voting rights and the approval of a largely disputed coal terminal.

A review committee has been meeting since January of this year to look at the county’s charter. A charter is much like a constitution, a set of rules for the county to follow. Currently the Whatcom charter allows for residents to vote for any county council candidate they want; it doesn’t matter if the candidate is in their district or not. The review committee is currently trying to change this voting method by making it district-only voting.

District-only voting for Whatcom County means that residents can only vote for three county council members instead of all seven, and those three have to be in the district they live in. Whatcom County has three districts total. Two out of the three have always leaned towards the conservative side.

Even though Whatcom County is mostly rural and conservative, the majority of the county’s population lives in Bellingham, a city that has historically been liberal. District-only voting will give the underrepresented population a voice and more control over county council elections. This change in the voting method will give Pacific International Terminals, a company that develops shipping ports, a better chance in building their coal exporting terminal in the county. This coal terminal is called the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Since the charter review has started, both party sides have donated $8,000 combined. Most of the conservative donations come from Whatcom First, a political action group.

Whatcom First has been able to help with donation because in 2014, PIT donated $10,000 to the group.

Pro-coal companies have been pushing for district-only voting because the majority of the county is conservative and in favor of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. If the charter is changed, it could lead to the election of more conservative county council members.

In 2011, the Cherry Point terminal, or the Gateway Pacific Terminals, was proposed by PIT, which would export 48 million metric tons a year. Since then the approval of this terminal has been heavily debated. Currently the terminal is going through an environmental impact statement which will be completed by the end of the year.

In the upcoming midterm election in November, residents of Whatcom County can vote on whether or not district-only voting should be in the charter.

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