King County, WA — The ostensible benefits of a democracy or a republic are derived from the act of electing officials who the citizens think represent their best interests. Some of the controversial aspects of this same form of government, however, are when unelected people are appointed to extremely powerful positions, some of which can last a literal lifetime — like the US Supreme Court.
Electing leaders is the basic defense against autocracies and oligarchies in which power is concentrated in the hands of one person or order, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control. Leaders are appointed by tyrants or born into their positions and the only “vote” from the citizens takes place in the form of a coup d’état or mass insurrection.
Given these two aspects of a democratic form of government, one would naturally think that people choosing their leaders through an election is better than allowing those leaders to be appointed. But if we look at Seattle, Washington, one would be wrong.
Earlier this month, citizens of King County voted to give up their right to elect their sheriff and gave that power over to the county executive board instead. It’s a move that even has the sheriff’s office questioning it.
Charter Amendment 5 passed with 56% of the vote with 625,088 people voting to give up their rights to choose their sheriff and only 496,536 opposing this ridiculousness.
King county is now the only county in the state in which the sheriff is appointed and not elected.
Naturally, the executives in charge, love the idea. County Executive Dow Constantine says he’s enthusiastic about the change and says allowing his office to choose the sheriff would boost accountability — by somehow removing the sheriff’s accountability to the people.
The Washington State Sheriff’s Association (WSSA) disagrees and properly points out that the sheriff should be accountable to the people and not a handful of bureaucrats.
“The accountability and responsiveness of an elected Sheriff is critical to public safety in our communities,” WSSA President Tom Jones wrote in a letter to the Save Our Sheriff Committee on Oct. 20. “Sheriffs are, and should remain, directly accountable to the people.”
But the WSSA’s disagreement with this bill is less likely due to citizen accountability and more likely due to the fact that they stand to lose lots of funding now that their fate is in the hands of the executive. That’s where Charter Amendment 6 comes in.
In addition to giving up their right to elect their sheriff, 62 percent King County voters also approved Charter Amendment 6, which gives the county council the power to reduce the sheriff’s power and duties, KIRO reported.
“I think we’ve seen a demand for increased oversight, increased accountability,” King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski told KIRO. “We got to stop having these shootings and killings of unarmed civilians.”
While we certainly agree with Dembowski’s sentiment above, the idea that people need to be stripped of their right to elect the person ostensibly responsible for upholding their constitutional rights for this to happen, is ludicrous.
However, that is what the executive council wants. Dembowski said that voters — who are no longer allowed to vote for their law enforcement — “want a law enforcement system that reflects our values, and we think an important way to get there is to take down some of these barriers.”
In other words, the citizens are too ignorant to make this decision, so a handful of us bureaucrats will do it for you.
“I’m confused as to why one would give up their opportunity to vote and make choices and hold people accountable and support candidates who are willing to run for office,” KCSO Captain Stan Seo told Crosscut. “It’s unfortunate.”
In a rare move, TFTP actually agrees with the captain.