After trailing for two days, supporters of Kshama Sawant have pulled ahead in an election that opponents hoped would end with the socialist's removal from her Position 3 seat on the Seattle City Council.
Thursday results from this week's special election show Sawant beating back the recall effort by a slim margin of 232 votes. Of the 40,629 ballots counted, 50.29% are currently in favor of retaining Sawant while 49.71% are in favor of recalling her. Initial results saw Sawant trailing 47% to 53%, but she narrowed that gap to about one percentage point Wednesday before pulling ahead on Thursday.
There are fewer than 1,000 ballots left to be counted. There are also about 600 ballots with signature challenges that need to be verified before the election is over. With the race still so close, either side could come out victorious.
This is an important election for Seattle progressives, who saw their preferred candidates lose to more moderate ones in several key races during last month’s general election. It would also shed light on what District 3 voters care more about: Sawant's policy stances, or her conduct in office.
A socialist, Sawant has been a fierce advocate for the city’s renters and unsheltered population.
She spearheaded efforts to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 and was instrumental in implementing a payroll tax on high-salary earners at local corporations. She also led the charge to ban most wintertime and school-year evictions in Seattle, and helped mandate relocation assistance to those who move after substantial rent increases.
But those leading the recall effort say Sawant’s actions over the last year demonstrate that she’s not fit to hold public office.
She's facing a recall on three charges that were each listed on the ballot voters received. First, that she used city resources to support a proposed ballot initiative. Second, that she violated state health orders by letting Black Lives Matter protestors into a locked City Hall last summer. And third, that she led a march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house, the address of which is protected under state confidentiality laws because of her work as a federal prosecutor.
Sawant admitted to the first charge, saying it was an accident. As to the second and third charges, Sawant has said she didn’t violate a specific state health order when she let protesters into City Hall and that she had no part in organizing the march to Durkan’s house.
The state Supreme Court, which allowed the recall to go forward, did not rule on the veracity of the charges. But whether Sawant violated a state health order or led protestors to Durkan’s house no longer matters — voters are letting her know what they think at the ballot box.
If recalled, Sawant would be removed from office later this month. The Seattle City Council would then have 20 days to appoint a replacement to fill the seat. A special election for the post would be held in November of next year. Sawant would be eligible to run for this same seat or another office.
Sawant was outraised by her opponents, but not by much. As of Monday — the last day data was available — Recall Sawant and A Better Seattle, two groups fighting to oust Sawant, had raised $998,459 in contributions. The Kshama Solidarity Campaign, which fought the recall, had raised $984,318.
Data from Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission shows that most of the contributions made to the recall effort came from Seattle residents that don’t live in District 3, while most of the contributions made to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign came from donors outside of the city.
Only District 3 residents could vote in the election. The district includes Capitol Hill, the Central District, First Hill, Madison Park, Little Saigon International District, Madrona, Mount Baker, North Beacon Hill and South Lake Union.
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In the months leading up the recall, Sawant claimed that the recall organizers wanted the vote to take place in a special election, where turnout is often dreadfully low. The Kshama Solidarity Campaign even helped gather signatures to recall Sawant in the hopes the vote ended up on last month's general election ballot.
There is no historical precedent for a Seattle recall election in December in an off year, but King County elections officials estimated between 50% and 60% turnout. It appears thy were correct. Of the 77,579 registered voters in the district, 41,346 have returned a ballot. That amounts to about 53% turnout.