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%.
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.
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.