Kshama Sawant at a rally
Councilmember Kshama Sawant stands with seniors before her committee to demand Mayor Jenny Durkan protect the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place for public use. (Photo: Seattle City Council)

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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