NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

Campaign to recall Kshama Sawant has early lead — will it stick as ballot counting goes on?

A fierce­ly opposed and close­ly watched effort to recall Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber Kshama Sawant from office is ahead in the ini­tial count released tonight by King Coun­ty Elec­tions, with 53.10% sup­port­ing the recall and 46.90% opposed.

77,579 vot­ers in Seat­tle’s 3rd City Coun­cil Dis­trict, which Sawant has rep­re­sent­ed since Seat­tle moved to a dis­trict-based sys­tem in 2013, were asked to decide by tonight at 8 PM whether Sawant should be removed from office on the basis of three alleged acts of mis­fea­sance or malfea­sance. Bal­lots cast by 32,129 of the dis­tric­t’s vot­ers have been count­ed thus far, for total turnout of 41.41%.

Election Night ballot return statistics for the Sawant recall

Elec­tion Night bal­lot return sta­tis­tics for the attempt to recall Kshama Sawant (King Coun­ty Elec­tions, click to enlarge)

Recall back­ers, who launched their cam­paign in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber of 2020, alleged in their recall peti­tion that Sawant had relin­quished the author­i­ty of her office, mis­used city funds for elec­tion­eer­ing pur­pos­es, flout­ed COVID-19 safe­ty pro­to­cols, and mis­used her offi­cial position.

One of the charges relates to accu­sa­tions that Sawant led a march to May­or Jen­ny Durkan’s home on June 28th, 2020, which is pro­tect­ed infor­ma­tion under the state’s Address Con­fi­den­tial­i­ty Pro­gram. Sawant said that she had only been invit­ed to speak at the ral­ly, doing so “in sol­i­dar­i­ty” with some of the orga­niz­ers, fam­i­ly mem­bers of peo­ple killed by Seat­tle Police.

A sec­ond charge relates to Sawant alleged­ly allow­ing hun­dreds of pro­test­ers inside City Hall on June 9th, 2020, after hours, to demand that the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment be defund­ed and that Ama­zon be taxed. Sawant said that she broke no law, and at the time, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of SPD agreed with Sawant.

A third charge is that Sawant used city resources for a “Tax Ama­zon” bal­lot ini­tia­tive cam­paign. Sawant has point­ed out that she’s already paid a fine assessed by the Seat­tle Elec­tions and Ethics Com­mis­sion and that oth­er coun­cil mem­bers also vio­lat­ed the rules with­out being sub­ject­ed to a recall campaign.

Sawant respond­ed to the alle­ga­tions in King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court, argu­ing that the recall effort was polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed and ask­ing the court to dis­miss the peti­tion because it failed to meet the bur­den of fac­tu­al and legal suf­fi­cien­cy. How­ev­er, King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court allowed the recall as to pro­ceed, a deci­sion which Sawant then appealed to the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court.

In April of this year, the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court ruled that the recall could pro­ceed on all of the alleged grounds except for the alle­ga­tion that Sawant relin­quished the author­i­ty of her office to Social­ist Alternative.

Recall back­ers sub­se­quent­ly com­menced a sig­na­ture gath­er­ing campaign.

Antic­i­pat­ing that the cam­paign would be suc­cess­ful in forc­ing a pub­lic vote, Sawan­t’s sup­port­ers attempt­ed to influ­ence the tim­ing of the vote by col­lect­ing sig­na­tures them­selves, hop­ing to ensure the recall would be cer­ti­fied for the bal­lot in time for it to be held con­cur­rent­ly with the Novem­ber gen­er­al election.

How­ev­er, this gam­bit failed, and the recall cam­paign end­ed up qual­i­fy­ing after the dead­line to get on the Novem­ber bal­lot had passed. That result­ed in the recall elec­tion being sched­uled for a time when elec­tions are almost nev­er held: ear­ly Decem­ber, between Thanks­giv­ing and Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year’s.

The bal­lot con­sist­ed of one very long item, which list­ed the charges fol­lowed by a lengthy rebut­tal pro­vid­ed by Sawan­t’s cam­paign, Kshama Solidarity:

Sam­ple bal­lot for Sawant recall election

Right wing forces and oper­a­tives work­ing for wealthy, pow­er­ful inter­ests have enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly backed and cov­ered the recall for months, cheer­ing it on both local­ly and from around the coun­try. They’ve also spent huge sums of mon­ey on attack ads to influ­ence the out­come. Sawan­t’s sup­port­ers have coun­tered with an aggres­sive grass­roots cam­paign to oppose the recall.

Bal­lots to vot­ers were mailed out to vot­ers in the wake of a deci­sion on Novem­ber 10th, 2021 by the Unit­ed States Ninth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, revers­ing the dis­missal of a defama­tion law­suit by two mem­bers of the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment, who assert­ed in 2017 that their rep­u­ta­tions had been dam­aged by Sawan­t’s com­ments regard­ing the killing of Che Taylor.

If the recall cam­paign ulti­mate­ly pre­vails, Sawant would be oust­ed and a replace­ment coun­cilmem­ber appoint­ed by her colleagues.

If it fails, Sawant would remain on the Council.

Sawant was first elect­ed to the Seat­tle City Coun­cil in 2013, defeat­ing incum­bent Richard Con­lin for an at-large posi­tion. She was reelect­ed in 2015 and 2019 to rep­re­sent the 3rd Dis­trict, which encom­pass­es Capi­tol Hill. No one else who was on the Seat­tle City Coun­cil at the begin­ning of 2014 remains in office as a coun­cilmem­ber today, which means Sawant is the Coun­cil’s most senior member.

Kshama Sawant speaks at a rally for Bernie Sanders

Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber Kshama Sawant speaks at a Feb­ru­ary 2020 pre-pan­dem­ic ral­ly for Bernie Sanders at the Taco­ma Dome (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

As a Coun­cilmem­ber, Sawant has cham­pi­oned caus­es such as requir­ing large cor­po­ra­tions like Ama­zon to pay their fair share in tax­es, expand­ing ten­ants’ rights, and sub­stan­tial­ly reduc­ing the bud­get of the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment. She is one of the best known elect­ed offi­cials in the Unit­ed States who iden­ti­fies as a socialist.

King Coun­ty Elec­tions is pro­ject­ing that about 6,665 bal­lots remain to be count­ed in this recall elec­tion. If Sawant were to win around two-thirds of those, give or take, she could prob­a­bly beat the recall and remain in office.

If she gets a small­er per­cent­age of those out­stand­ing bal­lots, then we may not see a lead change. How­ev­er, the out­come seems like it will be close regardless.

Observers on Tues­day night were divid­ed on whether late bal­lots might sink the recall or not. Late-arriv­ing bal­lots com­ing through the mail can’t be eye­balled like bal­lots picked up from drop­box­es can. All we have tonight is the ini­tial results and a pro­jec­tion. By week’s end, or per­haps as of Thurs­day evening, we’ll be able to ascer­tain whether the recall has flopped or succeeded.

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