Sara Nelson vs. Nikkita Oliver
Sara Nelson vs. Nikkita Oliver (Campaign publicity photos)

Yes­ter­day evening was Top Two Elec­tion Night in the Ever­green State, and one of the posi­tions up for grabs was Seat­tle City Coun­cil #9 (At-Large).

The seat was vacat­ed by Lore­na González when she chose to run for May­or of Seat­tle. Unlike the oth­er city coun­cil seat in this year’s elec­tion (#8, held by Tere­sa Mosque­da), there was stiff com­pe­ti­tion for this posi­tion between three cred­i­ble can­di­dates: Sara Nel­son, Niki­ta Oliv­er, and Bri­an­na Thomas.

Nel­son is a well-known fig­ure in Seat­tle pol­i­tics, hav­ing unsuc­cess­ful­ly run in 2017 for the City Coun­cil seat now occu­pied by Mosque­da. As the co-founder of the Fre­mont Brew­ing Com­pa­ny and a self-described pro­gres­sive small busi­ness own­er, Nel­son is focused on the eco­nom­ic recov­ery of the city in the after­math of the pan­dem­ic. As well as her famil­iar­i­ty with Seattle’s busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty, she brings expe­ri­ence as a leg­isla­tive advis­er on the coun­cil to the campaign.

Oliv­er is equal­ly famil­iar to Seattle’s voters.

They also ran in 2017 – in their case, for May­or – and nar­row­ly came in third place behind Jen­ny Durkan and Cary Moon with around 17% of the vote in a hot­ly con­test­ed pri­ma­ry. Oliver’s pro­file has only grown in recent years, as they have cam­paigned for solu­tions to home­less­ness on behalf of a vari­ety of orga­ni­za­tions (includ­ing Urban Impact, Union Gospel Mis­sion, and Seat­tle Urban Acad­e­my). They are also a promi­nent voice in Seattle’s Move­ment for Black Lives.

The third con­tender in the race – Bri­an­na Thomas – is anoth­er sec­ond-time can­di­date who is inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the dynam­ics of the City Coun­cil, thanks to her posi­tion as incum­bent Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Lore­na González’s chief of staff.

Thomas pre­vi­ous­ly ran for Seat­tle City Coun­cil in 2015, the first cycle in which Seat­tle had dis­trict based elec­tions for most of its coun­cil seats. She was elim­i­nat­ed in the Top Two, com­ing in fourth behind Lisa Her­bold, Shan­non Brad­dock, and Philip Tavel. (Her­bold pre­vailed in the gen­er­al election.)

Last month, polling con­duct­ed by Change Research for NPI sug­gest­ed that Oliv­er had a strong lead over the oth­er two – 26% to Nelson’s 11% and Thomas’ 6% – but that more impor­tant­ly, 50% of respon­dents were not sure yet.

August 3rd was the dead­line for those unde­cid­ed vot­ers to make up their minds, and it seems like many of them swung for Nel­son, cat­a­pult­ing her into the lead.

In the ini­tial returns, Nel­son’s share of the vote was 42.4% – a huge jump from her show­ing in the poll. How­ev­er, she can­not breathe easy yet, as Oliv­er is only 7% behind her at 35%. Thomas came in at 14%.

If most of Thomas’ vot­ers decide to back Oliv­er over Nel­son in the gen­er­al elec­tion, that could give Oliv­er a cru­cial boost in the final round.

While it seems most like­ly that Nel­son and Oliv­er will be con­tend­ing in the Novem­ber runoff, Nel­son might not nec­es­sar­i­ly hold the pole posi­tion. Because Seat­tle and Wash­ing­ton State are vote at home juris­dic­tions that accept late-arriv­ing bal­lots, sub­se­quent drops can often change the sta­tus of a race days after Elec­tion Night. For exam­ple, in 2019, Kshama Sawant won back her coun­cil seat after trail­ing her chal­lenger Egan Ori­on by 12% on elec­tion night.

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